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Duke on top again, ahead of schedule

Young Blue Devils pull away from Maryland to win the automatic berth.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2000


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski figured to be spending this season trying to stitch together a few holdover role players and a few freshmen into a decent team.

He should be a tailor.

Led by freshmen Jason Williams and Carlos Boozer, the Blue Devils beat Maryland 81-63 Sunday afternoon to win their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title.

In case Krzyzewski needed it for a work he insists is in progress, he has even more thread. Well, nylon ... from the nets he and his team snipped down afterward, much to the approval of the Duke fans at the Charlotte Coliseum.

"We're ecstatic about the win," Krzyzewski said.

"What makes this so special is nobody expected it," echoed forward Chris Carrawell, the lone senior, referring to predictions that Duke couldn't recover quickly after the loss of Elton Brand, William Avery and Corey Maggette to the NBA and Trajan Langdon to graduation and the NBA, and the transfer of Chris Burgess. "To win it is huge."

But Williams, the fourth freshman to be named the ACC tournament MVP (Phil Ford, Sam Perkins and Jerry Stackhouse were the others), and Boozer were huge when it mattered most.

Despite an uncharacteristically poor-shooting first half in which they were 1-of-11 from three-point range, the top-seeded Blue Devils (27-4) built a 54-44 lead on a Williams three-pointer with 13:41 left.

No. 20 Maryland (24-9), the only ACC team to beat No. 3 Duke in the past two seasons, and that a month ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium, rallied in the next five minutes to cut the deficit to 56-52.

"We got a 10-point lead and then we lost our focus," Krzyzewski said. "I tried to stress poise during that timeout and they showed it from then on. We scored almost every time we had the ball after that."

First Boozer, who had 21 points and outplayed All-ACC pick Lonny Baxter, hit a left-handed lay-up, and Williams, who had 23 points and six assists, followed with a three-pointer from the left corner.

Baxter answered with a basket, but Williams hit a floater in the lane and Boozer capped an 11-2 run with a three-point play for a 65-54 lead with 5:38 left.

"I was just playing basketball," said Williams, who had struggled in the regular-season meetings against Maryland with a total of 15 points, 15 assists and 15 turnovers. "I was having fun. As a player, if you're having a lot of fun on the court then things work out in your favor."

"He played well," Maryland freshman point guard Steven Blake said. "I think I let him into the lane too much today. He penetrated and made things happen."

The Terrapins, who lost four starters and three players to the NBA draft last year, closed to 69-61 with 3:23 to go, but junior guard Nate James made a pair of free throws, then Williams beat the shot clock with another three-pointer to seal the win.

"Some people asked me how it felt getting to the finals," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, referring to his team's first trip there since 1984. "You know, it doesn't feel really good right now because we didn't win the championship. I think that's the attitude of our players. Why we won 24 games this year is that we believe that we're a good basketball team."

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