- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The Maryland Terrapins have chased the Duke Blue Devils seemingly forever.
Not anymore. The second-ranked Terps have a higher ranking by one spot than Duke. They are alone atop the ACC. And they are in prime position to capture their first outright ACC regular season title since 1980, breaking the Blue Devils' five-season stranglehold on the conference.
To do so Maryland must keep up the momentum from Sunday's 87-73 victory against the league's lesser teams, starting tonight with a trip to Clemson. The toothless Tigers (12-14, 3-10 ACC) are tied for last in the ACC and have lost nine of 10. It could be only a matter of weeks before Larry Shyatt is forced out as coach.
That's what makes this game so tricky. The Terps didn't need anything to motivate them against Duke. Clemson, that's another story.
"Everybody [on campus] is so happy because it's almost like we got a monkey off our back by beating Duke," forward Byron Mouton said after Maryland's first win over Duke at Cole Field House in five seasons. "Now that we beat Duke, can we keep it up and not have a letdown? That's what's so great about college basketball. We are going to go out and prove what kind of team we are."
The Terps have a 23-1 record and are 11-1 in the league for the first time. They hold a half-game lead over Duke (11-2 in ACC). Maryland is in excellent shape to earn the ACC tournament's top seed and its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And the Terps essentially are assured of starting the NCAA tournament at MCI Center thanks to new rules placing the tournament's top 16 teams close to home in the first two rounds regardless of their NCAA region.
Following tonight's game, Maryland plays host to No. 20 Wake Forest before traveling to Florida State and closing the regular season with the final game at Cole Field House against 22nd-ranked Virginia. It is a rare sight to see Maryland ahead of Duke, and the Terps plan to ensure it is more than a mere snapshot.
"We didn't win anything by beating Duke," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We beat the No. 1 team in the country, which is great. But it didn't give us a championship. It didn't give us a lock on anything. I think our players understand that. The way people talk, you beat Duke and you had a great season. I never looked at it that way."
The Terps point to veteran leadership and experience as reasons why they will keep their focus regardless of the opponent. Maryland starts three 23-year-old seniors in Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton. The Terps say they have learned to be mature from last season's roller coaster that saw them lose five of six games late in the season before rebounding all the way to the Final Four.
"It's been great," said Baxter, whose team has won eight straight games. "Everybody around here is like 'Great game.' But we have to beat Clemson to keep our goal of winning the ACC."
After missing Monday's practice to attend his father's funeral yesterday morning in New Jersey, Williams returned and was at practice in the afternoon. William Williams, 85, died of heart failure early Saturday morning. Gary Williams was told about it by his brother at about 2:30 a.m. but did not tell his players during Saturday's practice or on Sunday, the day of the Duke game. The coach held a team meeting Monday.
"They work too hard to get to that game, I didn't want them to dwell on anything that was going on with me," Williams said. "That was hard to get through the locker room and the press conference after that. Then you have time to dwell on your dad. You try to compartmentalize as much as you can. You can't always do it, but you try to. That's how I got through it. … The other part is my dad lived to be 85. He had a good life. He was only sick the last two weeks of his life. That's a pretty good number."
Williams informed his assistants Saturday before getting ready for the Duke game.
"It goes to show you what kind of person and what kind of coach Williams is," said Dave Dickerson, Maryland's top assistant coach. "He has been the best thing to happen to this university in a long time. For him to have that in the back of his mind and still prepare the team the way he did for the game on Sunday was just an amazing thing." …
Steve Blake needs one assist to become Maryland's all-time assist leader outright. The junior has 649, matching co-leader Keith Gatlin (1984-88) … Dixon needs eight points to become the first player in NCAA history to have 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 3-pointers.

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