- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

DURHAM, N.C. Duke can get dirty underneath after all. The Blue Devils abandoned their finesse game and outmuscled Maryland last night to remain in the ACC race.

No. 8 Duke beat No. 13 Maryland 75-70 before 9,314 at Cameron Indoor Stadium by scrapping past the visitors around the basket to withstand a late Terrapins run.

Duke (18-4, 8-4 ACC) and Maryland (16-7, 8-4) now trail Wake Forest (17-4, 7-3) by percentage points for the ACC lead after splitting the season series. Wake Forest plays at Georgia Tech tonight and the Yellow Jackets are 11-0 at home. North Carolina (14-11, 4-7) visits Maryland on Saturday.

It was a strong effort by the Terps despite falling short after several runs. Coach Gary Williams was impressed with the team's resiliency after trailing by 10 points in the second half.

"How can this be deflating?" he said. "We played our [butts] off. I'm so proud of these guys. We've come back all year. It shows the character of the team."

Forward Tahj Holden's career-high 18 points overcame a slow start by Maryland's frontcourt that two nights earlier dominated Wake Forest. The Terps simply had no answer early for forwards Shelden Williams (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Dahntay Jones (21 points), especially on second-chance points, while center Casey Sanders (four points, nine rebounds) was a fixture underneath defensively.

Duke blocked 13 Maryland shots as the Terps struggled to penetrate inside. Center Ryan Randle (12 points, seven rebounds) and Holden couldn't move Duke defenders back without drawing a whistle in the tightly called game until the final six minutes, when play became looser.

Duke won its 26th straight at Cameron since Maryland's 2001 victory. The bandbox proved deserving of its reputation as one of the nation's tougher venues. The "Cameron Crazies" ranged from blue-horned vikings to those wearing only blue Speedos. The deafening din began one hour before the game and shook the gym like Redskins fans once rocked RFK Stadium with chants of "[Steve] Blake is ugly" and "We're not rivals."

"Maybe it gives them a lot of adrenalin," guard Drew Nicholas said. "I don't think it affected how we played."

Maryland's third-ranked field goal defense (37.5 percent) stymied Duke from the outside as the Blue Devils were four of 18 before hitting the final three 3-pointers. Conversely, Maryland stayed close by converting 18 of 22 free throws. Duke was foul plagued early, entering the bonus after just nine minutes to give Maryland an alternate scoring avenue.

Duke led 37-33 at halftime in a continues counterpunching flow. There were 19 lead changes or ties, including 15 in the first 10:24 when neither team could score more than four unanswered points. Maryland appeared sluggish at times in playing for the second time in three nights for the only time this season while Duke came off a four-day break.

The Terps finally asserted themselves underneath midway through the second half, but weren't getting the bounces off the rim. Maryland used a 10-4 run capped by Blake's 3-pointer to close to 53-51 with 11:08 remaining. However, three 3-pointers by J.J. Redick gave Duke a 67-57 cushion with 5:49 left.

Forward Calvin McCall's second 3-pointer in two minutes and Randle's basket underneath cut Duke's lead to 68-66 with 3:17 remaining. Duke countered with two free throws by Jones and Daniel Ewing's 3-pointer for a 73-66 edge with 1:29 left. Holden's dunk and Randle's tip-in with 44.5 seconds left cut it to 73-70. Blake's desperate 3-pointer with two seconds left was short when three Duke defenders rushed him.

"I didn't want to put [the last shot] on anyone else's shoulders," Blake said. "I've been around here a long time."

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