Albert King sat in the back of the Maryland locker room, the tears still streaming down his face. It had been 30 minutes since his last-second jump shot had hung on the rim -- seemingly for hours -- and just fell off, giving Duke the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title, 73-72.
His coach, Lefty Driesell, walked over, put his hand on the player's neck and leaned down close to him. "Get your head up," he said softly. "I couldn't be any more proud of you. The good Lord has a reason for everything."
Someone kept King's shot out of the cylinder, someone kept it on the rim just long enough for Buck Williams to miss tipping it in. Someone, as Duke Coach Bill Foster said, wanted the Blue Devils to win this remarkably played, emotionally charged ACC final.
"I should have made it, Coach," King said, still crying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry I missed."
King and his teammates had nothing to be sorry for tonight. They came within inches, perhaps an inch, of beating a team that made 79 percent of its shots in the second half, a team that had to win to get in the NCAA tournament.
"They can play with anyone in the country," said Duke's Foster. "We played our guts out for 40 minutes, almost perfect basketball, and came within an inch of losing."
This was a game that had the 10,392 here -- those who made it to the Greensboro Coliseum through six inches of snow -- on their feet almost all contest. Consider this: Maryland led by six once, at 6-0, and Duke never led by more than two.
It was that close.
"We wanted it so bad," King said. "Winning the MVP trophy doesn't mean a thing, not a thing at all. We wanted to win it for Coach. It was there, we just didn't get it. I've never played a more emotional game my whole life."
Players on both sides agreed.King, with 27 points on 11 of 17 shooting, Ernest Graham with 17 points and 11 rebounds, Williams with 14 points and seven rebounds, played superbly for Maryland. Greg Manning had 14 points even though he was clearly bothered by his back sprain suffered Friday night.
For Duke, Banks was the foremost hero with 21 points even though it was Mike Gminski who tapped in the winning basket with eight seconds left. Right behind Banks, perhaps right up there with him, was Vince Taylor. The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, who has struggled at times this season, had 19 points, six assists and the game's most important steal.
The steal came with 1:45 to play.Maryland had a 37-33 lead at the half and Duke had scored six straight to lead 39-37 early in the second. From there, the game see-sawed, Duke leading by two points six times -- scoring on its first nine possessions the second half -- and Maryland leading by three on several occasions.
The last time was at 70-67, after a Manning layup with 3:58 left. Banks, who made seven of eight shots the second half, drove for a layup to make it 70-69.
The Terps spread out, going to their patented "two" offense, the offense that had sealed so many other victories in this 23-6 season that will continue next week in the NCAA Tournament.
With hearts stopping on every pass, they worked the ball around. The clock ticked down under two minutes. Taylor, quickest player on the Duke team, stole the ball.
Dutch Morley got back, but Taylor's layup was good and it was 71-70 Duke with 1:48 left.
Seconds later, Taylor stole a pass and Morley fouled him going to the hoop. Now Taylor turned human, badly missing both foul shots.
"I don't know," he said later, while his sore left ankle, injured Friday, was being worked on. "It just all got to me right then. No way I should have missed. I was nine for 10 before that."
But he did miss and the Terps came down again, trailing by one. This time they did the right thing -- got the ball to King. Before he could shoot, Banks fouled him. King swished both free throws.
Now the clock was at 55 seconds. Duke set up patiently, and at 21 seconds called time.
"The play was for Vince to move into the middle and either dish off if the defense came to him or take the shot," Gminski said. "He was open, he took the shot."
He was open because all the Maryland defennders were collapsing on Gminski and Banks. "If they were goint to beat us," Assistant Coach Tom Abatemarco said, "they were going to have to do it with a jump shot."
Taylor's 12-foot shot rimmed out. Dennard flashed through and kept the ball alive, tipping it high off the glass. The ball went right to Gminski and he tapped it in with eight seconds to go.
"Years from now people will forget that Kenny kept that ball alive," said Gminski, who had 13 points and seven rebounds."He got it up when I was out of position and let me get in position."
Maryland called time. After inbounding, the Terps rushed the ball to midcourt and called time again. Five seconds left.
As always, the end-of-the-game play was called: three options, Manning, King or Graham.
"We knew they were going to run that play, it's what they always run at the end from there," Bender said. "We wanted to try and force Greg out too far and keep them from lobbing to Albert."
The Blue Devils did just that. Manning was forced away from the ball and King had to come far out to meet Morley's pass. He turned, dribbled to the left of the key and, with Gminski in his face, fired.
"Maybe I should have taken the drive instead of the jumper," King said. "For a second I thought it was in. I was a step too far out."
The ball hit the front rim, bounced just as Williams tried to tip it, and came off. Banks grabbed tha ball as time ran out. Williams was on the floor in a heap with Dennard. Williams said it was an undnercut, Dennard said it was not.
"I couldn't be prouder of this team if it had won," said Driesell, the only dry-eyed person in the Maryland locker room. "We played a great game, a super game. We're still the Cinderella team in the country."
But one inch from the elusive glass slipper Driesell has been seeking for 11 years.