DURHAM, N.C. — DURHAM, N.C. - The Maryland Terrapins buried a monthlong demon, stared down the storied Duke Blue Devils and made themselves look like national championship contenders, all in one amazing, 30-minute stretch of basketball.
Last night, before another hostile, sellout crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 16 Maryland continued its turnaround by running second-ranked Duke out of its own house and pulling away to a 91-80 victory.
Led by Juan Dixon's 28 points and five steals, Maryland put its superior depth to excellent use. The Terps also took advantage of cold shooting by the Blue Devils and an injury to Duke center Carlos Boozer - who missed the game's final 10 minutes with a possible fracture in his right foot - to put together a 41-20 run that comprised the game's final 15 minutes.
The Terps (19-9, 9-6), who have won four straight games after dropping five out of six, are in position to clinch third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They can do it by closing out the regular season with a victory at home against Virginia on Saturday.
"It was magnificent. We played with a lot of emotion and a lot of heart," said Terps center Lonny Baxter, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, one of three Maryland players with double doubles. "We turned it around."
Last night was all about the Terps putting the disaster in College Park behind them. On Jan. 27 at Cole Field House, Maryland held a 90-80 lead over Duke with 54 seconds left in regulation, only to go scoreless, blow the lead and lose to the Blue Devils in overtime, 98-96.
That started a 1-5 slide that bottomed out with a loss at Cole to last-place Florida State two weeks ago.
A striking role reversal took place at Cameron last night. There were the Blue Devils, tiring badly without Boozer - who could be lost for the season - taking ill-advised shots in crunch time and committing several costly turnovers.
And there were the Terps, taking a 70-69 lead they earned at the 6:01 mark on a gorgeous runner in the lane by Dixon, then protecting it with composure and resolve.
Over those final six minutes, Maryland outscored the Blue Devils 21-11, forcing three turnovers, hitting big shots and feasting on Duke at the free-throw line. Remember Jan. 27, when the Terps missed three of four foul shots in the final minute of regulation? Last night, Maryland calmly put away Duke (25-4, 12-3), as four Terps combined to make nine of 10 free throws in the final 52 seconds.
"I can't say enough about our character. To go through what we went through in College Park, losing a game like we did, then to come down here and get the win, that's really big," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who is now 6-22 against Duke during his 12 years in College Park and 4-22 against Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Williams said the Terps began their turnaround in their locker room following the Florida State debacle.
"After the game, we figured it out that we were going to be the only people who were going to turn it around," he said. "We weren't going to get any outside help. It made us a little tougher. We got a little nastier. We made up our minds that we were going to try a little harder. We were going to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and just get after it."
Maryland got after it in many ways. Terence Morris scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, joining Baxter and Byron Mouton (seven rebounds, eight points) in an assault on the boards that wore down Duke. The Terps out-rebounded the Blue Devils, 49-39.
Point guard Steve Blake had 11 points and 11 assists, his career high against ACC competition. Blake battled point guard Jason Williams basically to a draw, as Williams finished with 13 points and five assists.
Maryland withstood a typical offensive barrage by the Blue Devils, who entered the game averaging 93 points, second highest in the country. Duke, led by Shane Battier's 31 points, stunned Maryland in the first half with seven three-pointers. The Blue Devils scored 23 points in the final five minutes of the first half, turning a 36-27 deficit into a 50-43 halftime lead.
Battier, a senior who eventually fouled out of his last game at Cameron and did not score after pulling Duke to within 78-73 with two free throws at the 2:09 mark, hit a pair of threes to push the Blue Devils in front 60-51 with 15:20 left in the game.
At that point, the Blue Devils appeared to be in control, but soon after that, Boozer (16 points) hobbled off the court.
Dixon had other ideas. His 12-foot, pull-up jumper in the lane and fast-break layup sparked an 8-0 run that pulled the Terps to within 60-59. By that point, the Blue Devils had missed 13 of 17 second-half shots and were headed for a meltdown. Duke made only three of 19 three-pointers in the second half.
Duke extended its lead to 69-64, but Maryland charged back behind Dixon, whose runner gave the Terps a 70-69 lead. Dixon then stole the ball from Mike Dunleavy and scored a layup to make it 72-69 with 5:38 left.
Maryland's much-heralded bench had been relatively quiet during its previous three-game streak, but it awakened last night.
Danny Miller came up big while the Terps were clinging to a 72-71 lead. First, Miller produced a tremendous block of Battier's attempted dunk. Then, while attempting to keep alive a rebound following a missed free throw by Baxter, the ball caromed in the basket. Miller, who finished with seven points, then turned a nice feed from Dixon into a reverse layup that made it 76-71 with 3:30 left.
The Blue Devils never got closer than five points after that.
Dixon admitted that after Maryland had extended its lead to 82-75 with 1:05 left, he thought about that other Duke game.
"It was scary. I was thinking about it. I even said to Blake, 'We've got to win this time,' " said Dixon, who scored 31 points to lead the Terps to victory at Cameron last year. "We're going to appreciate this game a lot more than last year's, because of all we've been through. This says a lot about our team."