- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

DURHAM, N.C. — The Duke crowd taunted Maryland with chants of “on the bubble” before the teams met yesterday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

After the game, even that might not apply.

Maryland turned in another sloppy performance in falling to third-ranked Duke 86-63 before 9,314 raucous fans, leaving it dangerously close to missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years.

The Terps dropped to 13-10 overall and 4-8 in the ACC after losing their third game in a row, their longest losing streak this season. By the game’s end, the Cameron Crazies had switched to chants of “NIT,” a tournament that looks like a more probable destination for the Terps thanks to a miserable first half in which they turned the ball over 15 times, were routinely beat downcourt for layups and shot a horrific 32.3 percent.

“We have to be more competitive in a game like this,” said Terps coach Gary Williams, who had to sit through “Gary needs a hug” taunts from the crowd. “But at the same time, our whole focus is [the next few weeks], where we play three of our next four at home. We have to take care of business. This is our chance the way the schedule falls.”

Maryland probably needs to win three of those four to make the NCAA tournament. The Terps play host to Clemson tomorrow, No.15 Wake Forest on Saturday and Virginia to end the regular season March7. Their final road game is at No.13 N.C. State on March3.

Poor performances in those games could relegate the Terps, in seventh place in the conference, to the ACC tournament play-in game. Maryland must finish in the league’s top seven to avoid the play-in game and is a half-game ahead of eighth-place Virginia (4-9).

“Every team has a tough season,” Terps guard John Gilchrist said. “Everything is not gravy every year. This is the year we have to just grind, dig deep and show some character.”

Meanwhile, Duke (22-3, 11-2) swept the two-game series against Maryland for the first time since 1999, broke a two-game losing skid and won its 40th consecutive home game, which ties Pittsburgh for the nation’s longest streak. The Blue Devils built a 45-28 halftime lead and cruised from there.

Unlike the recent losses to North Carolina and Georgia Tech, the Terps failed to make any sort of rally in the second half. And throughout most of the half, sophomore shooting guard Chris McCray sat on the bench with watery eyes and a dejected look, a perfect picture of Maryland’s season in distress.

McCray didn’t play in the game’s final 16:35 after failing to get off a shot as the shot clock expired. He appeared to be pouting as Williams and assistant Jimmy Patsos yelled at him. When McCray got up to get a water bottle, Williams ordered him to sit down.

“It was coach’s decision,” said McCray, who had five points on 1-for-5 shooting in 20 minutes. “I kind of reacted the wrong way. It was in the flow of the game. … I can’t do anything about it. I can’t cry about it.”

Williams refused to discuss the incident, but the frustrations of the season were evident on his exasperated face.

“Chris didn’t go back in,” Williams said. “That’s all — coach’s decision.”

Not that it mattered. The game was effectively over by then.

The Blue Devils shot 50 percent for the game, made six of 12 3-pointers before intermission and dominated inside play behind center Shelden Williams, who had 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds.

J.J. Redick led Duke with 20 points. He made five of nine 3-pointers, often coming off screens for open looks. The Blue Devils recorded 16 steals — five by Sean Dockery — and outscored Maryland 31-15 in on points off turnovers.

Duke pulled away early. Maryland took a 11-9 lead on a layup by Gilchrist (team-high 14 points) in transition, but the Blue Devils followed with 11 consecutive points to start a 19-3 run. Williams tied the game with a pair of free throws, and after a turnover, Daniel Ewing gave the home team the lead for good with a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc.

Williams then stripped the ball from Jamar Smith at the foul line en route to a fastbreak layup. Following a foul by Smith, Dockery fed Shavlik Randolph for another layup to push Duke’s lead to 20-11.

“We started off very well, but we had trouble continuing at the pace we were going,” said Smith, who was limited to four points and four rebounds. “There were a lot of turnovers. By halftime the game was out of hand.”

The shoddy ballhanding continued, and Redick made a pair of deep 3s right in front of Gary Williams on the bench to make it 26-14. Freshman Luol Deng (17 points) finished another fastbreak to make it a 14-point advantage.

Duke pushed the lead to 53-30 early in the second half on another uncontested 3-pointer by Redick and built its biggest lead at 79-52 after a 3-pointer by Dockery.

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