Sunday, April 01, 2001

Duke wins with guts, willpower

        MINNEAPOLIS — Chris Duhon hit the floor so hard his head bounced. He arrived at the loose ball the same time Steve Blake did. There was 3:35 left in Duke-against-Maryland, and up to this point, it had been a measure of wills. Maryland was not backing up. Duke was not backing off. The seismic collision was an ugly metaphor.

        A full Metrodome crowd deflated like the building's air-supported roof. Blake bounced up. Duhon blacked out, then was helped off, a body of rubber bands hoisted between a couple trainers. You could see his eyes as he went to the Duke dressing room. They were pure glass.

        Duke led, 80-77 by then, and eventually would beat Maryland for the third time
in four tries by a misleading 95-84. It was a much nobler game than that.

        But when Duhon fell, nobody knew who might win, only that neither side was going to squirm. Maryland exploded early, adding to its lead and its confidence by the minute: 23-10, 28-13, 34-15 and, incredibly, 39-17 with 6:55 to go in the half.

        The Terrapins were not afraid of the Blue Devils, having played the pedigree tough three times already. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? Could be. Duke nearly killed Maryland in January, coming from 10 down in the last minute at Maryland, eventually winning in overtime.

        The Terrapins took a well-chronicled tumble after that, losing four of five, before winning 10 of their last 11, including one at Duke.

Duke's mission

        Midway through the first half Saturday, the task for Duke was already clear:

        Could the Blue Devils roll up their custom sleeves?

        Their 3s weren't falling. Their run-and-gun game was stuck in neutral. Jason Williams, their best player, had one field goal, and that was on a goaltend. This was a food fight at the Maisonette. Maryland was pouring mustard on the Blue Devils' silk tie. Could Duke win messy?

        Duke cut it to 11 at half. Duhon's 3-pointer sliced it to four, with 18:29 to play. Williams scored his first real basket with 15:06 left, a reverse layup that cut it to two.

        Maryland never flinched. For the next nine minutes, Duke cut it to one point three times. Each time, the Terrapins managed a basket or a free throw. The building was on fire. The Terrapins were down to one finger on the ledge.

        It was Williams who pushed them off, with a 3-pointer from the right wing with 6:51 left, giving Duke its first lead, 73-72 with 6:51 left. “They are tough in tough situations,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams.

        Said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: “I've had some teams with heart. This one is right up there.” Royalty, it turns out, comes with a little brass in the pocket.

Dizzy dude

        Duhon came out after about five minutes in the locker room. The trainers had checked his reflexes and given him something for his aching head. His mother had come in. “She prayed over me,” Duhon said.

        With 30 seconds left, Krzyzewski put Duhon back in the game. “Not for an ovation,” said Duhon. “To put pressure on their point guard.”

        Were you all there? Someone wondered.

        “I'm still not,” Duhon said, after the game. “I'm very dizzy.”

        State of the art nearly fell off the wall. It was rescued by, of all things, guts. Dizzying guts.

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