Maryland ran into a fired-up basketball team today and matched it emotionally for all 40 minutes. But in the final three minutes the Terps could not handle an all-America center who finally played like an all-America and the result was a 66-31 loss to Duke.
The Blue Devils, coming off four straight road losses, beset by rumors that Coach Bill Foster will go to South Carolina next season and hampered by the slump of center Mike Gminski, got big plays from Eugene Banks and Gminski in the clutch. The loss prevented the Terps, 9-3 in the league and 19-5 overall, from clinching a tie for the ACC regular season title for the second straight week. The Blue Devils are 6-6 in the ACC, 18-7 overall.
The loss to Duke, coupled with North Carolina's victory tonight over Virginia, leaves the Terps one game ahead of the Tar Heels with two games to play. A win Wednesday night at Cole Field House against Wake Forest would clinch a tie before Saturday's finale at Cole against Virginia.
"Six times we got their lead down to one and we never could get over the hump and get the lead by one," said a clearly upset Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell. "If we had gotten the lead, I think we would've won the game."
Banks' 20 points, seven assists and s uperb defense that held Albert King to four of 10 shots for a season low 12 points, put Duke in front. It was Gminski who kept the Blue Devils there.
The Terps, largely on the effort of Buck Williams, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds, had closed the gap from 56-49 to 58-57 on a Greg Manning jumper with 4:30 left. Then Gminski awoke from his slump.
After Manning's basket, King blocked a layup by Kenny Dennard and the Terps came down with a shot and the lead. The worked the ball into Williams and he backed in, as he had done all day, to shoot on Gminski. Only this time when he turned to shoot, Gminski slammed the ball back at him.
"I was off-balance when I backed in," Williams said. "I should have passed outside and started over again. But he made a good play. He can be intimidating."
Banks grabbed the loose ball and Duke set up again. The ball went inside to Gminski and Williams fouled him. The big senior, who finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, made both free throws for a 60-57 Duke lead with 3-31 left.
Now the Terps set up. But Reggie Jackson tried to bounce a pass to King at the foul line and Gminski swooped out, knocked the ball loose and took off with Williams in pursuit. As Gminski went up to shoot, Williams shoved him -- about four rows into the stands.
"At first I was going to grab him but I couldn't catch him so I had to push him," Williams said. "We shook hands."
"I was angry," Gminski said. "But what I was thinking about were the foul shots." He made both for a 62-57 Duke lead with three minutes left.
The Terps still were not done. King hit a bank shot to make it 62-59 and, after Banks missed an alley-oop dunk, Manning tried a jumper. The ball hit the back rim and bounded high into the air. King skied and rammed it in, but referee Lou Moser called offensive goaltending.
"I just saw it up there and tapped it in," said King. "I don't know if it was in the cylinder or not."
King quickly fouled Bob Bender, who had hurt the Terps with his outside shots. Bender missed the first of his one-and-one and Williams cut the lead to 62-61 with a short jumper with 1:07 left. The Terps called time. t
Then came the most critical play of the game. The Terps did not press Duke on the inbounds and allowed them to pass the ball around in their spread offense until 16 seconds remained.
Then, they fouled Gminski, Duke's best foul shooter at 84 percent. "We wanted to foul Dennard (a 50 percent shooter) but we got the wrong guy," Driesell said. "I don't believe in fouling when you're down one unless you have to. We wanted to run it down to 10 seconds and then foul Dennard."
Gminski, who had missed a crucial one-on-one Sunday at Marquette, made both shots for a 64-61 lead.
"I was mad at myself for missing at Marquette," Gminski said. "I wanted to make up for it."
He then supplied the clincher when he blocked Manning's drive with five seconds left, setting up Vince Taylor's basket at the buzzer for the five-point margin.
If these two teams do meet again, a blood bath is possible. This game was played at fever pitch almost from the beginning, with Banks refusing to shake Ernest Graham's hand at the start and Dennard decking the Maryland junior early.
The reason: Graham's waving of Banks' hand in the air after Banks fouled out during Maryland's 101-82 romp two weeks ago.
"I respect Graham's game," said Banks. "But he plays most of it with his mouth."
"He's pushing, shoving and talking all the time in there," Graham said. "Maybe that's the way he likes to play."