- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Judging by the words of the Maryland players heading into tonight's game at No. 2 Duke, they may as well be taking on Clemson, N.C. State or any other "next" opponent. The Terps are speaking the company line heading into their rematch with the Blue Devils even if their body language suggests otherwise and nobody is buying it.

"We're looking forward to playing them like we would any other team," Maryland point guard Steve Blake said, trying to keep a straight face. "We're not thinking about last time."

Last time Duke pulled off one of the most miraculous comebacks in college basketball history. Maryland controlled the entire game and was well on its way to a landmark victory at Cole Field House before it blew a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of regulation and lost in overtime. The Duke disaster seemed to derail Maryland's season, beginning a freefall that saw the Terps lose five out of six.

"We were up 12 with 1:20 remaining," Lonny Baxter said after the Jan. 27 debacle. "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It's going to be hard to put this behind us."

Drew Nicholas missed three foul shots in the final 61 seconds, and Juan Dixon had a critical turnover with 37 seconds left as Jason Williams stole the game for Duke. It took three weeks for Maryland (18-9, 8-6 ACC) to recover, but the Terps now bring a three-game winning streak that included wins over nationally ranked Wake Forest and Oklahoma into Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Shane Battier and Nate James will play their final home game tonight.

"We're really strange sometimes," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "It's an interesting year. It's definitely a chapter… . It's amazing."

The chapter penned tonight will go a long way toward deciding the end of Maryland's not-so-storybook season. The defining moment for Maryland so far came against Duke (25-3, 12-2), and the loss exposed a character flaw that has followed it around since.

"It's sort of like a heavyweight champion boxer who gets knocked out for the first time," CBS television analyst Billy Packer said. "The next time out he keeps waiting for the fallout and where the next blows will come from."

Even with the recent wins, questions remain about the group's heart. The Terps improved to 3-6 against ranked opponents by beating the Sooners on Saturday. However, Maryland is 0-4 in games decided by five points or less and hasn't been in a game that's gone to the wire since the last game of its skid, a 74-71 loss to Florida State.

Former Terps center and current ESPN analyst Len Elmore sees strong parallels between that loss to Duke and a hurtful loss from a titanic matchup nearly three decades ago.

"In 1972-73, it didn't kill our season, but losing to N.C. State on a last-minute tip by David Thompson affected ourselves and how we looked at ourselves after that," Elmore said. "It just had a huge impact. We lost our next six to N.C. State [over two seasons]. The Duke game is one of those trauma points that need something to take that away."

Elmore, who played alongside John Lucas and Tom McMillan, says beating Duke would be the "epiphany" that could propel the Terps deep into the NCAA tournament.

Maryland should be loose as it heads to Durham for a game few expect it to win. The Terps snapped Duke's 46-game home winning streak last season with a 98-87 win at Cameron as Juan Dixon drained 31 points. The stunner, which caused Maryland students to celebrate by tearing down a goalpost at Byrd Stadium and parade it to Route 1, also ended a 31-game ACC winning streak and an 18-game winning streak overall by the Blue Devils.

"We know we can win down there," said Dixon, whose just-another-game speech wasn't very convincing. "We proved it last year. We just have to play defense. We have a bigger team, so we have to get the ball in there and feed off those guys."

Dixon, a junior shooting guard, is playing his best basketball of the season and was named ACC player of the week after scoring 30 points against N.C. State and 23 all in the second half against Oklahoma. It will take another strong performance from him for the Terps to have a chance tonight.

The Terps' biggest problem will be slowing playmaker Jason Williams, the do-everything point guard who is one of the country's best players. Blake outplayed Williams in the first game, and Williams committed 10 turnovers before fouling Blake out in the final two minutes. With Blake gone, the savvy sophomore scored the first eight points of the Blue Devils' last-minute run, including two deep 3-pointers.

"[Tonight's] an opportunity to turn it around," Maryland reserve center Mike Mardesich said, straying slightly from the rest of the team. "It's a chance to prove something to ourselves."

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