One bounce. One bounce too many. One bounce that will be in Buck Williams' dreams for a long time. One bounce that kept Maryland from winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
One bounce and Kenny Dennard.
Williams was hanging in the air -- his eyes seemed to be at basket level, 10 feet off the floor -- ready to slam home Albert King's miss turnaround jumper from the left side of the free-throw line.
The ball bounced high off the rim and Williams seemed to have it measured. Had King thrown up a bad shot Williams might have slammed it home, for he was the only player who seemed to want the ball.
But King does not miss like ordinary shooters, so this ball hit the rim again. And even a most extraordinary leaper such as Williams, who defies gravity, must come down sometime -- and as he came back to the court the ball hopped an inch or so out of his grasp.
The ball found Gene Banks' hands -- and Duke won by a point.
But as Banks was grabbing the ball Williams was sprawled atop Dennard on the floor under the basket. On his re-entry, Williams landed on Dennard, who had failed to box him out on the play.
Or Williams had been undercut.
"Someone sure did take him out," Lefy Driesell said after watching a replay perhaps a half-hour after this most dramatic ending. "That's ridiculous. Buck got killed."
"He went baseline, sort of around me and up," Dennard said. "But he went up at an angle, up and away from the basket. And when he came down he came down on me. A great noncall, I'd say.
"Of course, I'd say that."
These eyes saw it Dennard's way. Williams had beaten him -- and surely would have tipped the ball home had the dratted thing not hit iron one exasperating time more. Dennard seemed frozen; Williams had no other place to land.
"I thought it was a foul," Williams said, "but it doesn't matter. They won the game. They deserve it."
Still, this splendid game surely had to end in controversy, for the officials -- from the Metro Seven Conference -- had been close to horrid nearly the entire tournament. Films will show Duke was burned as badly as Maryland by those consistently inconsistent boobs.
And Driesell's first instinct when Banks had in hand the final rebound was not to rush the referee in anger, as he once did in Chapel Hill, but to walk toward the Duke bench and congratulate someone.
Driesell always is most gracious in defeat -- and he has had 11 years of accepting it in this tournament. He is a man who has averaged nearly 20 victories a season for 20 years, but who has not won a ACC Tournament title.
This was his fourth team to make the final game -- and to fail. And this game was as close as any may come to the classic double-overtime 103-100 loss to North Carolina State six years ago.
The best players played best. King and Banks were incomparable. Mike Gminski scored the winning basket, on a tip-in. And a relatively unheralded sophomore, Vince Taylor, was exquisite just long enough to offset being erratic.
Three critical steals, five for eight shooting, nine of 12 from the free-throw line, six assists, five rebounds. Those were the numbers that earned Taylor most-valuable player honors for the game.
The most valuable player in the tournament -- by as heavy a blizzard as the one outside the coliseum here -- was King, who in the third game shot 11 for 17 from the field and five for five from the line.
One scene best illustrated the tenacity and tension of these special 40 minutes. It came just after the final buzzer when Banks, still clutching the ball, collapsed near midcourt.
"Hyperventilation," Assistant Coach Bob Wenzel said.
As the other players were hugging one another and Driesell was being puzzled by an exceptionally angry handshake from another Duke aide, Steve Steinwedel, Banks lay flat on his back. His eyes were glassy, as though someone had punched him silly.
Now and then a duke player, first Taylor and later Gminski and the others, came by and looked down -- and were reassured by the Duke trainer: "He's all right."
Perhaps 20 minutes later, after Duke had received its awards and just as his good friend King had been named tournament MVP, Banks was helped to his feet and off the court.
This was a game that both teams will ponder for its exceptional number of plays decided by a bounce of the ball, when a few inches either way would have turned the game to the other team.
Dennard and Gminski each got a tip of Taylor's shot with 10 seconds left. Earlier, Greg Manning got a rebound and turned it into a three-point play when the ball just eluded banks.
One more scene remains vivid: a Duke timeout has ended, with 21 seconds left and Maryland ahead by a point; a terrific game has gotten almost unbearable. Nerves out to be shattered, tempers ought to flaring.
But as King and Banks pass each other they exchange an affectionate, respectful slap of the hands. Two classy players were about to decide a classic game.