Maryland got away with one last night.

After blowing a nine-point lead in the last five minutes, the Terps benefited from a referee's call that could have gone either way with four seconds to play and escaped with a 56-53 victory over Duke in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at Capital Centre.

The 19-8 Terrapins, who wore new uniforms (gold with red trim), will meet top-seeded Virginia in today's first semifinal game at 7 p.m. Their win last night, not matter how shaky, probably wrapped up an NCAA tournament bid.

One foul shot by Greg Manning after the controversial call with four seconds left and two more by Ernest Graham after he rebounded Manning's missed second shot with two seconds to go, provided the difference in a physical game that the Terps should have won easily, but didn't because Duke wouldn't quit and Maryland let the Blue Devils keep pushing.

The play that decided it came with 26 seconds left, after Vince Taylor made one of two free throws to tie the game, 53-53. That completed a Duke comeback that dissolved a 53-44 Maryland lead with less than five minutes to play.

Clearly rattled, the Terps called time with 17 seconds left. "We wanted to run something inside for Buck (Williams) but Greg saw a chance to go one on one and take it to the hole so he did," Coach Lefty Driesell said. "It worked out fine."

Depending on your point of view, it worked out fine because referee Jim Burroughs, (a), made a correct call as Manning collided with Taylor as he drove underneath with four seconds left; (b), made a bad call that should have been a charge.

"I held my breath when I saw Taylor on the floor," Manning said. "I thought it was a good call; he hit me on my arm."

Not according to Taylor: "The ref was intimidated by the crowd," he said. "Look at the film, there's no way I fouled him. I didn't reach, I didn't do anything. I just stood there. It had to be a charge. I wasn't going to foul him, no way. He's a 90 percent foul shooter. If he made the shot, fine, but I wasn't going to foul."

Williams, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds, thought it could have gone either way. "I wasn't sure what they were going to call, it was very close," he said. "We were fortunate to get the call and fortunate to win."

Lucky is more like it.

Duke, 15-12 and hoping for an NIT bid, came in hobbled. With center Mike Tissaw limping on a badly sprained ankle, Coach Mike Krzyzenski was forced to start senior forward Jim Suddath, who had taken a total of 17 shots during the season.

Suddath played well, scoring 12 points, but with Tissaw playing sparingly, the Blue Devils lacked strength underneath and they were outrebounded by the Terps, 31-23.

Almost from the beginning, Maryland was in control of this game, taking a 29-22 halftime lead, then quickly opening it to nine early in the second half. Even with Williams on the bench with four fouls, the Terps remained in command as Albert King, who had 17 points, came up with a big basket each time it looked as if Duke was about to make a run.

When King hit his last field goal, an 18-footer from the corner with 4:58 to play, the Terps were up, 53-44, and it looked like a waltz. But Duke is a no-quit team, its heart reflected largely in seniors Eugene Banks and Kenny Dennard. The Devils kept coming. %tBanks (17 points) hit two foul shots to cut it to 53-46 and, after a King travel -- one of 22 Maryland turnovers -- Suddath hit another bomb and it was 53-48 with 3:50 left.

At that point, Driesell decided to spread things out even though the Terps have run their delay game poorly almost all season. With fouls to give, the Blue Devils chased madly and their work paid off.

After a trade of turnovers, Tom Emma (10 points) hit a drive to cut it to 53-50 with 1:02 left. Manning was called for charging Taylor with 54 seconds on the clock and Dennard hit a follow of Taylor's host to make it 53-52 with 37 seconds left.

Again the Terps in-bounded. This time Taylor stole tha ball from Dutch Morley and, as he went up to shoot, was fouled with 26 seconds remaining. After a Driesell timeout Taylor missed the first, then hit the second, setting up the wild finish.

The controversial ending wasn't much wilder than the scene after the game ended. Driesell, sensitive to questions about his decision to spread the offense and his team's near choke, stormed into the postgame press conference.

Asked why he spread the offense he said, "I don't want to answer that."

Asked why he outfitted his team in gold uniforms he said, "I don't know."

Asked how his team played, he said, "good enough to win."

Then he bolted from the rostrum, pushed his way through reporters and herded his players onto a bus and out of the building.

Graham summed it up best: "Around here, you know, anything can happen."