It was a stunning game, filled with brilliant runs by both teams. Duke (34-4) was good enough to make it to Monday’s title game against Arizona, while Maryland saw its most successful tournament run end. The Terrapins finished 25-11.
The anticipation for tonight’s game was extremely high. The teams’ first three meetings included a 10-point comeback in the final minute of regulation, two victories on the opponent’s home court and a last-second tip-in. Duke had won twice; Maryland triumphed once, but believed it should have swept the previous three games and entered tonight with a tremendous amount of confidence for a team making its first Final Four appearance.
Maryland opened with a great run, building a 39-17 lead. The advantage was down to eight before the half ended, and then Duke got even closer in the second half. Two free throws by JasonWilliams, followed by a fast-break three-pointer from the right wing by freshman Chris Duhon, made it 52-48.
The Terrapins called a timeout to try to gather themselves. Freshman Chris Wilcox, in the game because of foul trouble for Terence Morris and Tahj Holden, made a layup. Duke countered with two free throws by Shane Battier.
Maryland, seemingly using every bit of energy to hold off the fast-charging Blue Devils, went ahead 58-50 on a jumper in the lane by Steve Blake and a put-back by Byron Mouton.
But Duke kept coming. A second-chance dunk by Williams cut the lead to 60-58, the closest the Blue Devils had been since it was 2-0. Maryland backup center Mike Mardesich made a tip-in, then Duhon converted a three-point play and it was 62-61. A few minutes later, Battier made a long-distance three-pointer from beyond the top of the key and Duke had its first lead, 73-72, with 6 minutes 52 seconds left.
Maryland went back in front on an alley-oop layup by Morris.Williams answered for Duke. Morris, in a break from his normally passive demeanor, called for the ball and scored again, making it 76-75 for the Terrapins.
After the teams traded free throws, Carlos Boozer made a pair to put Duke in front, 78-77. Morris, again calling for the ball, had it stripped by Duhon. Williams missed a three-pointer, but eerily reminiscent of the teams’ most recent meeting, James snuck inside Maryland’s defenders and tipped in the miss for an 80-77 lead with four minutes left.
After Blake injured his ankle colliding with Duhon, Drew Nicholas entered for Blake and made two free throws, but it only stemmed Duke’s onslaught. Battier made a pair of free throws, then Boozer — fully recovered from a broken foot suffered in the teams’ Feb. 27 meeting — made a layup and it was 84-79. By the time Tahj Holden broke a four-minute field goal drought, Duke had an 87-82 lead and was on its way to another championship game appearance.
Having already played each other three times, Maryland and Duke were plenty familiar with each other. However, no one could have predicted what happened in the opening half.
Just like the teams’ meeting in the ACC tournament, Maryland started strong. This time, though, the Terrapins kept pouring it on after the first few minutes. Everyone was contributing. In the first four-plus minutes, every Maryland starter scored.
It was apparent Dixon had his shooting stroke as he calmly made three-pointers from all over the court. After a steal and layup by Byron Mouton, point guard Steve Blake made his second three-pointer, this one from the right wing, and Maryland had a stunning 39-17 lead.
Had it been a schoolyard game, it would have been called for the mercy rule. Here, though, Duke did what everyone seemed to expect: It got back in the game.
On the Blue Devils’ ensuing possession, Nate James, a Washington native, made an open three-pointer from the right corner, Duke’s first three-point basket in nine attempts. As the Terrapins went more than three minutes without a field goal, the Blue Devils crept back as Maryland struggled to rebound and failed to take care of the ball.
Mike Dunleavy made a tip-in, Carlos Boozer a jump hook and James made a nice right-handed shot on a drive to make it 42-26.
Terrapins Coach Gary Williams called timeout, but it did not halt Duke’s momentum. Battier stepped behind the three-point line and made a three-point from near the top of the key and it was 42-29. Soon, it was 46-36 after Jason Williams fed Boozer for an uncontested dunk on a pick-and-roll. And after Baxter missed inside, Boozer made a pair of free throws to cut Maryland’s lead to 46-38.
Maryland seemed vulnerable. Gary Williams was extremely upset with the officiating, yelling across the court at one official as Boozer shot his free throws. Though the Terrapins had a significant advantage in depth, Morris and backup forward Tahj Holden had three fouls each, while Baxter had a pair.
But then everything seemed to change. Boozer missed a pair of free throws and James grabbed the rebound - Duke’s 13th offensive rebound — only to have it stolen by Dixon. Maryland worked the clock down, then Dixon made a 25-foot three-pointer from the right wing, sending the Terrapins into the locker room with an 11-point lead and a huge shot of confidence.