- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

The first three versions of the Maryland-Duke game could be titled "Gone In 54 Seconds," "Sweet Revenge in Cameron" and "The Georgia Dome Thriller."

Maryland and Duke have staged the best rivalry in college basketball this season. Now the entire country will be able to see the final episode played out in Minneapolis' Metrodome, with a spot in Monday night's national championship game hanging in the balance.

"That makes it even more magical," Terps small forward Byron Mouton said of Maryland's first trip to the Final Four. "This is what it all boils down to. The ACC is great. We're playing Duke for bragging rights… . This is the big game of the year. Nobody is going to remember the other three [two of them won by the Blue Devils]."

Duke's Shane Battier and Maryland's Juan Dixon hugged after the latest meeting, the Blue Devils' 84-82 victory in the ACC tournament semifinals in the Georgia Dome. Both players were exhausted but fully appreciated the magnificent game in which they had competed. Battier told Dixon he would see him in the Final Four.

Simply a trite observation in an emotional moment?

"I think it was real," said Dixon, who narrowly missed a 40-footer at the buzzer that would have won for Maryland. "We were playing great ball at the time. We're still playing great ball. So are they."

Duke's two dramatic wins were decreed "Instant Classics" by ESPN and have been rerun several times. Maryland coach Gary Williams wryly calls the Terps' victory at Duke on Senior Night "just a good win for the fellows at Maryland." It wasn't a traditional classic because the Terps dominated the latter stages of the second half, ensuring there would be no fantastic finish.

Battier left Cameron Indoor Stadium in tears that night after the Terps had ruined his final home game Feb. 27. The senior All-American scored 31 points but couldn't carry Duke as Maryland closed the game with a 40-20 surge. Dixon led the Terps with 28 points, while Lonny Baxter and Terence Morris dominated inside play and recorded double-doubles.

"We owed them," Mouton said after the 91-80 victory. "Duke took our life last time."

That was a month earlier when the Terps crumbled in the final moment to begin a free fall that left the season in ruins. Maryland had controlled the game for 39 minutes and led by 10 with 54 seconds remaining. However, a total team breakdown, led by several miscues by Drew Nicholas, turned the glorious win into an agonizing loss.

Duke's Jason Williams took over after Maryland point guard Steve Blake fouled out and scored eight points including two deep 3-pointers in 13 seconds to cut Maryland's 90-80 lead to two with 41 seconds remaining. Nate James tied the game with two free throws, and a Maryland loss was inevitable after that; Duke eventually celebrated a 98-96 overtime win.

Fans in Cole Field House chanted "overrated" at second-ranked Duke when Maryland held a double-digit lead. Then some booed and hurled objects at the court after the grim conclusion.

"I really didn't think we would collapse like that," Maryland forward Tahj Holden said afterward in a stunned locker room. "Not considering the way we played all game. Obviously, we did collapse."

It was only the beginning of a bigger collapse that saw Maryland lose five of six, including by 21 points to Virginia and 10 to Georgia Tech. The skid bottomed out in a home loss to Florida State, when the Cole faithful booed the Terps' poor play.

"We were all devastated after that first [Duke] loss, and we played like it," Gary Williams said.

But the rest of the season was a historic turnaround for Maryland that landed the Terps' first Final Four berth after they upset top-seeded Stanford for the West Region championship. For Duke, it was another great season culminating in Mike Krzyzewski's ninth appearance in the Final Four.

Maryland won its final five games of the regular season, closing with a 35-point blowout of Virginia. Duke, despite losing center Carlos Boozer with a fractured foot against the Terps in Cameron, won at North Carolina to complete a 26-4 regular season.

Both teams easily won first-round games in the ACC tournament to set up their third meeting.

"I haven't felt any better about a game than when I walked off the court in Atlanta after the Maryland game," said Krzyzewski, whose team won by two thanks to James' tip-in with 1.3 seconds left. "It wasn't just because we won. I thought it was the best game we've been in all year."

The Terps trailed by 14 early in the second half before eventually taking a short-lived lead on Danny Miller's 3-pointer. Blake hit a 3-pointer with 8 seconds remaining to tie it 82-82, setting up James' late theatrics.

"We played them in the ACC tournament, and we all wound up being friends," Mouton said of the emotional bond shared in the draining game. "It was so good of a game that you can't even get mad at the situation."

Dixon said the two teams "bring out the best in each other." The Blue Devils' last loss before their eight-game winning streak through the ACC tournament and the East Region was the one to Maryland. The Terps have won 10 of 11, with their only loss to Duke. The two teams have been through so much together this season, it is fitting they meet once again on college basketball's grandest stage.

"I love playing against them," Dixon said. "They are a great team, and we are too. We are just two competitive teams going at it one more time but this time it's in the Final Four."

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