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J.A. ADANDE

Duke Shows It Won't Take Punishment Lying Down

April 01, 2001|J.A. ADANDE

MINNEAPOLIS — The ultimate test of any great fighter is to see how he responds after he's been decked.

That's why this 95-84 Final Four victory over Maryland, in which Duke players got up from the deck both figuratively and literally, has to rank among the greatest in Duke's history.

Maryland hit them with everything it had, and the Blue Devils were down 22 points in the first half. They didn't get anything from their two stars for the first 10 minutes. They couldn't make a three-pointer.

Yet they came back. Came back the way Chris Duhon did after hitting his head on the floor after a nasty midair collision late in the game. Poise and leadership and passion.

"This team has heart," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

They're blessed with so many other things, it's almost unfair for them to have that desire, too.

In fact, they might have survived their greatest weakness: Maryland.

This was the fourth time the Blue Devils have played the Terrapins this season. This makes four great games . . . and four games that Maryland could have just as easily won. The Terrapins got the victory only once. And it wasn't Saturday, in the one that counted the most.

This game could have been a mid-major conference tournament game, and that's a compliment. Because they feature two teams so familiar with each other, and because in the smaller conferences the only way to make the NCAA tournament is to win the league title, those games create battles in which no lead is safe and no outcome is decided until the end.

Maryland was probably the last team Duke wanted to face, because the Terrapins had no fear of the Blue Devils. Familiarity breeds a healthy lack of respect.

The one thing going for Duke was that the coaches and senior players had been to the Final Four, while this was the first trip in Maryland's history. Perhaps the Terps would be spooked by the Metrodome, by all the fans and banners and cameras and media, and Duke wouldn't even notice.

"You wouldn't know it by the way the game started," Duke's Shane Battier said. "They played like the team that had been here before and we looked like the rooks."

The Terrapins knocked down 54% of their shots, including six of nine three-pointers. They rebounded as if they were doing their best Michigan State imitation. They shut down the lane defensively and rotated like crazy. Every time the Blue Devils took a three-point shot they had to do it with a Terrapin rushing at him with an outstretched hand.

When Krzyzewski said "it was amazing," he wasn't talking about the comeback, he was talking about how poorly the Blue Devils played throughout most of the first half.

They missed two of their 12 three-point shots. It took almost 11 minutes before either Battier or Jason Williams actually put the ball in the basket (Williams' first field goal came courtesy of a goal-tending call).

Finally, Krzyzewski told his team: "Look, just play the way we play. You're losing by so much, you can't play any worse. So what are you worried about? You're going to lose by 40? You're already losing by 20, so just play."

Nate James made Duke's first three-pointer with 6:37 remaining to cut the deficit to 19. Carlos Boozer, looking fully recovered from the broken foot he suffered in the second Maryland game, played what might have been his best game of the season.

Battier kept making the plays he needed to make. There's a time when you desperately need your stars to do something, and Battier one-upped Maryland's Juan Dixon.

Dixon was the guy in the first half, stroking three-pointers, including one just before the halftime buzzer that restored Maryland's lead to 11 points and could have ended any thoughts of a Duke comeback.

He made another three from the corner to put Maryland up by nine with 10:40 left in the game, but that was it for him. It was Battier's turn.

One three-pointer to cut Maryland's lead to four, another to cut it to one. A little more than a minute later, Williams made a three--his only make in nine attempts--and the Blue Devils had their first lead.

They were clinging to a three-point lead with 3 1/2 minutes left when Duhon collided with Maryland's Steve Blake while going for a steal. Duhon's head hit the court.

"He was down for the count," Krzyzewski said.

He finally was helped up and led to the locker room, his feet dragging. Seeing a fallen teammate could have rattled a lesser group. Duhon made two big three-pointers against USC to get the Blue Devils to the Final Four, and Saturday his defense against Blake helped harass the Maryland point guard into six turnovers. Krzyzewski later said Duhon had a mild concussion.

"We were really worried about him," Williams said. "You saw our whole team huddle around him. Then our assistant coach, Coach [Johnny] Dawkins, called us to the side and he got us really emotionally pumped up, saying we've got to do this for Chris."'

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