DURHAM, N.C. -- And the beatings go on.
Maryland lost its fifth straight basketball game to Duke, 95-77, last night before a sellout crowd of 9,314 at steamy Cameron Indoor Stadium. The nation's No. 2 team took control in the fourth minute, never let go and tightened its grip on a third straight Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.
The Blue Devils have won 28 of the past 33 meetings between the two programs. The previous three had come with an average cushion of 25.7 points, and this one was as easy as its predecessors. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team led by 28 with 10 minutes left.
The Terps' preparation was not at a peak. The grandmother of Terrell Stokes died earlier in the week, and the senior point guard didn't practice Monday or Tuesday. Some of his teammates mentioned strategy and shot selection afterward, but its impact player said the outcome was more about intangibles.
"They [the Blue Devils] wanted it more than we did," junior guard Steve Francis said. "A lot of us didn't play up to our capabilities. It's now or never. We have a chance to be one of the best teams in Maryland history, or one of the biggest disappointments."
No. 7 Maryland (19-4, 7-3) came in on a downer. Its six-game winning streak had been stopped at lightly regarded Wake Forest on Sunday. The Terps are stuck in their first losing skid since last February, and Duke (22-1, 10-0) cruised to its 17th straight win and its 34th in a row at Cameron, where Terps coach Gary Williams is 0-9.
Duke has its best 23-game record ever, and if it wins at Georgia Tech on Saturday, it will reclaim the No. 1 ranking.
During an 8-0 run, Duke went ahead for good in the second minute. It used an 11-3 spurt to take a 50-40 advantage into the break, then buried Maryland under a 20-5 spurt over a devastating four-minute stretch early in the second half.
When the Blue Devils beat the Terps by 18 points at Cole Field House on Jan. 3, they targeted the transition game and made Maryland work in the half court. Last night, they simply shifted into a higher gear and beat the Terps up the floor, aided by some sloppy ball-handling that led to 19 turnovers for the visitors.
The game only served to show the disparity between Duke and the rest of the ACC. The Blue Devils had six players in double figures, including a career-high 27 points by Shane Battier, who showed that Terence Morris isn't the only up and coming sophomore forward in the conference. Battier, who doesn't always get his due on a team that features sophomore center Elton Brand and senior guard Trajan Langdon, hit 10 of 13 shots, including all four of his three-point attempts. Morris, his matchup at power forward, drew his third foul in the 17th minute and was held to a season-low seven points, none in the second half.
"Shane Battier was out of his mind," Krzyzewski said. "You just have to keep letting him shoot. He kept hitting and driving. For about five minutes out there, I'm not sure anybody can play better than that. I hate to say it at Duke, but he was in a zone. It was amazing what he did during that period."
Nothing went right for the Terps. With 7: 54 left and Duke ahead by 22, Battier mugged Francis in the open court. Battier was called for a foul, but Francis wanted an intentional, shoved him back and got a technical for his troubles.
"Shane Battier is the total package," said junior wing Chris Carrawell, who had 14 points. "He's a Maryland killer."
Francis and Laron Profit had 18 points apiece for Maryland, which got a solid 19 minutes and 12 points from freshman Lonny Baxter after senior center Obinna Ekezie drew two fouls within an eight-second span in the second minute. Ekezie had two rebounds, four days after he had no field goals in the Wake Forest debacle.
A Francis free throw cut the deficit to 52-43 early in the second half. The Blue Devils were unstoppable over the next four minutes. Their run began with a pair of three-pointers by Langdon, who had been in a slump. After a three by Francis, Brand and freshman wing Nate James scored inside.
The run concluded with a jump shooting exhibition by Battier. His last three got the bulge up to 78-53 with 12: 19 left. The spread got up to 83-56 with 10 minutes remaining, on a Corey Maggette put-back.
"I was really disappointed in how we came out the second half," Williams said. "Against Duke, you can't be less than ready to play. I questioned just how ready we were to start that second half.
"Once Duke smelled it, they thought they had a chance to take it out a little bit. They're as good as anybody in that situation, when they feel they have the other team not playing really well."
Baxter's foul-line jumper had the Terps within 38-35 with 3: 30 left in the half. The Blue Devils then jumped on some weak Maryland possessions and accelerated to a 49-38 lead. What made the 10-point halftime deficit all the more daunting was that Williams tried just about every defense in his clipboard, including a box-and-one on both Langdon and point guard William Avery.
Maryland will try to start a winning streak Saturday, when Virginia comes to Cole Field House.
Next for Terps
Site: Cole Field House, College
Park When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 2/04/99