Maryland's players got their wish yesterday.
Duke won the draw with Clemson for the fifth seed in this week's Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament, setting up a match between the Blue Devils and the Terrapins for 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
Although Coach Lefty Driesell said that playing Duke instead of Clemson was "six of one or half-dozen of the other," his players have been saying since their 55-54 loss in Durham last month that they would like another shot at Duke.
They will get that shot in the last of the four first-round games Thursday at Capital Centre. The other games will match third-seeded Wake Forest (9-5, 21-5) against sixth-seeded Clemson (6-8, 20-9) at 11 a.m., top-seeded Virginia (13-1, 24-2) against hapless and eighth-seeded Georgia Tech (0-14, 4-22) at 1:30 p.m. and second-seeded North Carolina (10-4, 22-7) against seventh-seeded N.C. State (4-10, 14-12) at 7 p.m. Then, in the finale, it's fourth-seeded Maryland (8-6, 18-8) against fifth-seeded Duke (6-8, 15-11).
If the Terps beat Duke, they will play Virginia in one semifinal Friday.
The other semifinal would match North Carolina and Wake, if form holds.
"I guess I'm glad we're playing Duke because you have to play three emotional games to win the ACC tournament, anyway," Driesell said. "I always tell my players that the toughest game to win in the tournament is the first one. Maybe I shouldn't be doing that, though, since we ain't never won the last one."
Duke beat Maryland by a point, 73-72, in the final a year ago. The Terps blew the Devils out in College Park in January this year, but lost in Durham when Greg Manning's shot at the buzzer went in and out.
Duke has played well the last month. After a 7-7 start under rookie Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils have probably earned themselves at least an NIT bid with victories over Maryland and North Carolina. Nine of their 11 losses have been to top-20 teams.
They will undoubtedly try to control the tempo, keep the Terps out of transition. If they can do that, it is expected to be a close, tense game. The winner will leave the court around midnight Thursday and will come back at 7 p.m. Friday to play the Virginia-Georgia Tech winner.
Meanwhile, the turbulent season took another twist yesterday when Ernest Graham was quoted in a Baltimore newspaper as saying that Driesell had held him back during his four season years with the Terps.
"He just don't want me to shine," Graham told the Baltimore News-American. "I mean, I could take over this team. I could do it all. Everybody plays hard, then he starts messin' with me. If he kept me happy, we'd win. I have the kind of persoality that rubs off on everybody else. The way I feel, I can make everybody else feel. I can get these guys going."
Graham also said that Driesell had blamed him in front of the other players for the team's 66-64 loss to Virginia in January. He also said Driesell kept him on the bench as a freshman, even though, according to Graham, he consistently outplayed Albert King in practice.
Driesell reacted to the story almost calmly. "I know Ernest and all the players on the team know him," Driesell said. "He loves to talk and brag.
I've told him for four years that his worst enemy is his mouth. I'm positive he's saying. He just got fired up on some kind of ego trip or something."
Graham has been moody all season, upset by his own inconsistent play and by Driesell's constant shuffling, moving him from big forward to big guard to small forward to point guard. He has said often that he would like to settle down and play one position.
Now, with the start of his last ACC tournament three days away, he and Driesell are obviously not seeing eye to eye.
Trivia note: every ACC senior was a winner in his last home game this season. Georgia Tech, the only league team to lose its last home game, has no seniors. . . Maryland is still recruiting 6-foot-6 Bobby Joe Hurt from Alabama but he will likely end up with the Crimson Tide . . . Chris Mullen, a 6-5 standout from New York City, visited Duke this weekend . . . Virginia fans did nothing to enhance their image when they refused to applaud Albert King when he fouled out Saturday . . . At the opposite end of the spectrum, Duke students presented North Carolina Coach Dean Smith with a birthday card Saturday and sang "Happy Birthday" to him. He turned 50.