"Definitely," said Duke guard John Harrell, "those were the biggest six points I've ever scored."
The half-dozen points in Duke's 90-86 win came one by one from the foul line in the final 4:13, while Notre Dame was gouging into what was once a 14-point lead with long-range jumpers by Tracy Jackson and Duck Williams.
In the end after an offensive clinic of a first half and a 29-point masterpiece by Duke center Mike Gminski, the Blue Devils earned their berth in tomorrow night's NCAA title game by hitting their last 10 points at the free-throw line, with four of the last six from Harrell.
"I'm sort of numb," said Harrell. "I can hardly say anything."
Harrell's six points will always look big in his scrapbook, even though the box score shows Jim Spanarkel with 20 (12 to 12 from the foul line) and Eugene Banks with 22. In all, the Blue Devils outscored the favored Irish, 32-14, at the foul line, and outshot them from the floor 55 percent to 47.
A pair of Spanarkel free shots put Duke up, 88-82, with 44 seconds left. Then in the next 20 seconds, Notre Dame got a Williams jumper near the corner, forced Spanarkel into a bad pass for a turnover in the back court and converted it into another two points from the corner, also from Williams to pull within two, 88-86.
Duke in-bounded the ball with 20 seconds left against a back-court press. The pass from Spanarkel went through the hands of Banks. "No excuse," Banks said later. "I'm human, too."
Williams pumped up a 22-footer and missed. Harrell was fouled on the rebound by Rich Branning with nine seconds left.
Harrell, a transfer player who had to fight to crack the lineup and to keep academically eligible, hit both ends of the one-and-one for an 90-86 lead.
Williams final shot from the baseline didn't fall.
"The first half (after which Duke led, 43-29) beat us," said Williams, a Mackin graduate. "We had to play catch-up and Duke played awfully well."
Asked about his 22-footer from the wing that would have tied the game, Williams said, "I faked. I looked to pass to Kelly (Tripucka) and then I took the shot. I felt I could hit it. What can I say?"
Williams led the 23-7 Irish with 16 points. Tripucka had 12, Jackson 11 and Dave Batton and Bruce Flowers each added 10.
Tripucka thought the Blue Devils looked like a tired ball club at the end.
"We wanted to tie it," said the freshman forward. "In the overtime, there's no way they could have kept up with us."
"Our players will walk away with their heads high," said Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps. "To play catchup you need to play near-perfect basketball. We did a lot of good things. We just did them too late. I'm not disappointed in the way we lost."
Phelps could be questioned tactically on only one point. In a first-half stretch when Duke fattened its lead from 31-25 to 37-25, Phelps had gone to his bench for a smaller, quicker lineup than the big, strong one he starts. The game had been previewed as Notre Dame's muscle prevailing over Duke's speed, but such a match up didn't materialize.
"That's the way we always play, the way I've substituted all year," said Phelps.
The six-point flurry was one of Duke's best. It began with a spinning layup by Gminski on a fast-break pass from Spanarkel. Then, in what might have been the play of the game, Bob Bender lofted a lob pass from the backcourt, hurled the ball a good 60 feet to a spot inches from the hoop where Banks met it in the air and put it in.
After a three-second turnover by Notre Dame, Jim Suddeth scored his only field goal of the day, faking past a defender at the baseline for a layup.
"I don't think anyone really realizes what we're going through," said Spanarkel. "One or two weeks later it will hit us how much pressure there is. Now, we're just taking them one at a time."