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Correction to This Article
A March 21 Sports column incorrectly said that Duke's Daniel Ewing would be playing in Texas for the first time since high school when the Blue Devils played a regional semifinal game yesterday in Austin. Ewing played in last year's Final Four, which was held in San Antonio.
Mike Wise

In Familiar State, Duke, Carolina Right at Home

By Mike Wise
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page D07

CHARLOTTE -- J.J. Redick missed a layup. Daniel Ewing missed a layup. And big Shelden Williams was about to blow a dunk.

Duke was about dead, its lead gone, its fans petrified, its tradition irrelevant against the Mississippi State Bulldogs with less than 12 minutes left.

Duke's Daniel Ewing (game-high 22 points) shoots over Mississippi State's Gary Ervin, left, and Lawrence Roberts. (Ellen Ozier -- Reuters)

"When they came to the bench, I told them, 'Look, you're getting great shots,' " said Mike Krzyzewski on the night he surpassed Dean Smith for most tournament victories (66). " 'You're good players. Don't let it affect your defense. Your offense will come.' "

Coach K calls a 20-second timeout, the Blue Devils regroup, find a way to thwart a determined underdog and advance again.

You heard this story before?

Duke won. It always wins. The Blue Devils advancing to the round of 16 is akin to death, taxes and Geraldo.

Duke has been to 22 Sweet 16s. In the postgame notes, the good people of Charlotte inform you that the Blue Devils have recorded 179 victories -- the most of any program this century!

This must be completely nauseating for anyone associated with Washington area basketball. Maryland did not even make it, and George Washington, the area's lone representative in the tournament, was gone by Friday night.

Meantime, what a weekend for Carolina hoops. For the first time since 1989, three teams from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle advanced to the round of 16. The Tar Heels, the Wolfpack and the Blue Devils, 2-0, just like that. The state of Indiana did not even have a team in the tournament this year. Down here, they serve sweet tea and humble pie with their hoops.

North Carolina was awesome. The Tar Heels did not wear down Iowa State as much they punished and buried the Cyclones, 92-65, to advance at Charlotte Coliseum. They won their first- and second-round NCAA tournament games by a combined 55 points. The Tar Heels scored 188 points in two games. With respect to Illinois, Roy Williams's team is the best in the country.

And as for that ACC-Big East showdown, forget it. Who expected Villanova and West Virginia to be the last Big East teams remaining? Who expected a down year in the Big Ten to result in three round-of-16 teams?

About now, the Duke bashing should begin. But that would be foolish and provincial. Not that that would stop us, but it's tough to knock this team after the resolve it showed against Mississippi State.

Ewing often trips over himself and is capable of detonating Duke's chances all by himself. Each time he takes a bad shot from 24 feet or tries to finagle the ball between three defenders, Coach K cringes.

Not Sunday night, though. He was golden. With Duke up 55-53 and 1 minute 39 seconds remaining, he trailed Redick, whose layup was blocked by the Bulldogs' Winsome Frazier. Ewing followed the miss, putting Duke up four.

On the next possession, he drove the left side, hitting a short bank shot to push Duke up four again. Ewing made two free throws with 18 seconds left to seal the victory, scoring 22 points in a defensive gem where points were at a premium.

In the final 42 seconds, Williams and Shavlik Randolph had monster blocked shots. For a bunch of guys who routinely get beat off the dribble, those Duke guards sure funnel their men to the middle well, where their big guys change or block shots.

The Blue Devils held a capable offensive team to 32 percent shooting. And, as it always seems to go with Duke, there was a story behind the victory.

Ewing, who once played with T.J. Ford in a Houston suburb, gets to play in Texas for the first time since high school. Duke advanced to Austin, where it will meet Michigan State.

"I told him I'd take him home," Krzyzewski said as he sat next to Ewing on the podium after the game.

"Thanks, Coach," Ewing said.

"Let me clarify that," Krzyzewski said. "Today, you took me home."

Corny? Yes. Contrived and a little goofy? Yes. Do Krzyzewski and his players absolutely buy into this whole Duke-as-family thing? Also, yes. And that's all that matters.

"It's been one of the most rewarding years of coaching I've ever had," Coach K said. "I love this group of players."

Right about now, Gary Williams must be feeling queasy.

At any rate, for all the underdogs still alive -- for all the Wisconsin-Milwaukees and N.C. States -- all four No. 1 seeds advanced. It's happened, for some reason, every odd year since 1987. It also happened in 1988.

After their little homecoming party, Duke and North Carolina have to remain a couple of the favorites to win the national championship. Illinois, Washington, Arizona and Oklahoma State are the only teams good enough to stop them.

And Duke does not have that tough a road. After Michigan State, which is eminently beatable, the Blue Devils would face the Kentucky-Utah winner to advance to yet another Final Four. There they would most likely see Carolina.

So after meeting in the halls of Charlotte Coliseum the past four days, the two gold standards of this state's basketball tradition could be on another collision course.

When asked what it felt like to have more tournament victories than Dean Smith, Krzyzewski smiled and said, "You get to the Final Four, you kind of rack 'em up."

It's enough to make you ill -- if they weren't so good and consistent.

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