DURHAM, N.C. – Duke’s 2001 rally in College Park might be the most famous minute in Duke basketball history, a where-did-that-come-from blitz of skill and desperation that redeemed a game most saw as lost.
But that memorable comeback ten years ago against Maryland didn’t actually win the game. Rather it gave an exhausted group of road warriors an extra five minutes to achieve a most unlikely comeback.
Duke and Maryland were heavyweights in 2001. Duke went into the game 18-1, ranked second nationally, having won 43 of its last 44 ACC regular-season games. The roster leads like a Who’s Who of Duke basketball. Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Nate James and Mike Dunleavy starting, with Chris Duhon playing starter’s minutes off the bench.
Duke’s sole ACC loss during this span was to Maryland, at Cameron, in February 2000. Maryland had moved into the ACC elite. Led by guards Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, the eighth-ranked Terps were poised to prove it to a national television audience on January 27, 2001.
James says Maryland was very much a rival. The games “had a different tone to them. They were nastier games, pretty heated. Gary Williams’ teams took after him, tough and tenacious.”
James was a Maryland native, heavily recruited by Maryland. The stakes were pretty high for him. “It was a rivalry that I always had to be ready for. Whenever you go back home, you want to play well, especially against a school that you were heavily recruited for.”
The teams traded baskets in the early going. Duke led 25-24 when Maryland went on a 20-4 run that put them up 44-29 with 2:39 left in the half.
What went wrong? Williams accepts much of the blame. “I had a horrible game. I was lathered up three days before the game. I had heard all the stuff about Steve Blake being a Williams-buster. Sometimes you want it so bad, that you hurt yourself.”
Maryland’s press was a fearsome weapon, one that fed upon itself. A steal would lead to an easy basket which would enable Maryland to set up its press and start the cycle all over again.
James says Duke was wounded. “Sometimes you have lapses, sometimes things just don’t go your way. Their press is one of those things where you know it’s there. You know they’re going to do it. But when they jump you, when they come after you, one turnover turns into another turnover and all of a sudden, they’re on a run. They turned up the intensity and when you don’t match a team’s intensity, that’s when the tide changes a little bit.”
Duke could have folded its tents. James says that was never an option. “We were a tough-minded team which took after our coach.” Duke outscored Maryland 8-2 in the final moments of the first half, with Williams corralling a loose ball and converting a lay-up at the buzzer.
James says that last basket was huge. “Whenever you score before halftime, do something positive, it’s something to feel good about. Our goal was to get it down to single digits. When you have scorers, that’s only a three-possession game.”
Still, work had to be done at intermission.
Mike Krzyzewski says “Maryland is an incredibly difficult place to play, so its start was not surprising. They knocked us back a little bit in the first half, and for parts of the second half. At halftime, we needed to regroup and remind ourselves of what made us successful up to that point in the season.”
Williams says Battier did much of the reminding. “Shane kept us focused, telling us we could chip away, one basket at a time. Nothing fazed him. He kept his cool.”
Still, Duke could never quite get over the hump. Dixon was having a great game and Blake appeared to have Williams’ number. Williams analyzes Maryland’s strategy against him. “[Blake] had a long wingspan. He was hard to get around. Even when I got by him, he could still reach in. And Juan Dixon had lots of freedom to leave his man. So, they could box me up.”
Duke maintained an aggressive posture, getting to the foul line and putting a number of Terps in foul trouble. Blake fouled out with about two minutes left. Williams recalls thinking “Okay, now they have no one who can guard me.”
Still, Maryland led 89-77, with 1:05 left. James hit a 3 but Maryland made one-of-two foul shots and the capacity crowd started the infamous “overrated” chant.
The game changed in a five-second span. Jason Williams hit a lay-up with 53.5 left. He recalls what happened next. “I told Cdu (Duhon) that we could funnel [Drew] Nicholas into the corner. We had to make something happen. He played right into our hands.”
Duke trapped Nicholas, Williams stole the ball, dribbled into 3-point land and buried a jumper. Suddenly, it was 90-85 and Duke could sense the change. “When you see a little blood, take a bigger bite,” Williams says. “Once we saw them look a little defeated, we had them exactly where we wanted them.”
Nicholas, in the game because Blake had fouled out, missed two foul shots and Williams hit another 3, his eighth point in less than a half-minute. 90-88, with 30 seconds left.
Nate James stole the in-bounds pass. Dunleavy missed a 3 but James was fouled on a tip attempt. “I was upset because I should have won the game. I had a tip that went in and out. It should have been a 3-point play. Once that didn’t happen, I told myself to clear your mind, the only thing that matters is these free throws. Once I did that, to silence the crowd, it was a great feeling. Once we did that, I knew it was our game.”
Maryland had one final chance to win in regulation but Nicholas missed at the buzzer.
How could Williams have turned such a miserable game into such a memorable minute? Krzyzewski says “In the last minute, Jason showed who he was at both ends of the floor. When he got on a roll, he was awfully hard to stop. After a grueling 39 minutes, we were fortunate he had something left to help us push the game into overtime.”
Maryland had been dealt a fearsome blow. But they were still at home and they still were a much deeper team than Duke. James says “We didn’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. It’s winning time. You keep digging down. Whatever we need to do, let’s get it done. Pull together and make the plays.”
Battier dominated the extra period. Williams fouled out Terence Morris and hit two foul shots. Lonny Baxter answered for Maryland. Then Battier hit a 3 to put Duke up 95-92, made a steal while lying on the floor and hit two foul shots to put Duke up 97-94. Leading 97-96, Duke kept the ball for almost 90 seconds, rebounding four missed shots. Battier ended the scoring with a foul shot and blocked a Dixon lay-up to preserve the 98-96 win.
Duke left the floor to a barrage of debris tossed by stunned Maryland fans.
All of Duke’s starters scored in double figures, with Williams leading the way with 25. Dixon had 27 for Maryland.
Williams says “There’s no better feeling than going into a gym and shutting up a crowd. That’s a sign of respect, a sign that they know who you are. We left with our heads up, like we expected it.”
James says Duke’s attitude was “never leave the game with bullets in your gun. We rose to the occasion, guys stepped up and made big plays. We drew on that in the Final Four. When you've done it once, you know you can do it again."