The fascinating fraternal battle for national player of the year
that has been going on at Duke this season seemed to have cooled
off last Saturday night: Neither senior forward Shane Battier
nor sophomore point guard Jason Williams looked the part. As
Maryland--nine-deep, jet-propelled, driven by a hatred of all
things Duke--pulled farther and farther ahead at Cole Field
House, holding a 10-point lead with a minute remaining, the
dynamic duo disintegrated at an alarming rate. Battier, a
religion major who says at times he "feels the chi," attaining
the absolute calmness of mind described by the Shaolin monks he
has studied, was uncharacteristically getting backdoored on
defense and rushing his shots. As for Williams, the former
captain of the chess team at St. Joseph's High in Metuchen,
N.J., he had already reached double figures in turnovers early
in the second half, having put his own game in check by hurtling
into the heart of a defense that was unimpressed with his
growing reputation as the best backcourtman to hit the ACC since
However, in six minutes destined to live in infamy in College
Park (the final minute of regulation and five in overtime), the
Blue Devils pulled out a 98-96 victory that was as improbable as
any you'll ever see, a victory that further focused the national
spotlight on Battier and Williams and left eighth-ranked
Maryland--coaches, fans, players--with a case of transcendental
blues it may not shake for quite a while. As he left the court,
Terrapins coach Gary Williams, a man who even in the best of
times does not feel much chi and whose record against Duke coach
Mike Krzyzewski had just fallen to 3-22, looked as if he had been
sentenced to watch eight hours of Coach K motivational speeches.
Some Maryland fans vented their frustration by pelting the area
behind the Duke bench with bottles. Renee Boozer, the mother of
Blue Devils center Carlos Boozer, said she was hit by flying
glass, and the mothers of Williams and sixth man Chris Duhon said
they had been hit by plastic bottles. (None of the three were
To their credit the Terps, dejected almost to the point of
despair, blamed themselves for "playing 39 minutes instead of
40," as forward Byron Mouton put it. Someone asked point guard
Steve Blake about the disparity in personal fouls. (Maryland was
whistled for 31 to Duke's 21.) "I wish I could talk about that,
but I can't," he said. The underlying meaning was obvious and not
new: Many hoops observers think that Duke, because of the
goody-goody reputations of its chess-playing, religion-studying
players and the reigning patron saint of coaches, gets way too
many calls at home and a few too many on the road.
Fact is, the Blue Devils were nothing less than sensational in
the final minute of regulation and nothing more than steady and
solid in OT, exactly what one would expect from a team that in 20
games has lost only to Stanford, 84-83. (Duke was to face a tough
test at home against North Carolina on Thursday). The player of
the year candidates were right in the thick of things as well.
With a minute and a half remaining, Maryland's lead, which the
Terps had held since midway through the first half, was still in
double digits, and the Cole crowd, thirsting for blood, directed
an "Overrated! Overrated!" cheer at second-ranked Duke. It died
quickly, but not before offending the Blue Devils. "Oh, we heard
it," said Battier. "We didn't say anything about it, but we
looked at each other."
The lead was still 90-80 with 1:01 left. Then, suddenly, the
margin was five points, after Williams scored on a fast-break
layup, made a steal off a trap on the ensuing inbounds play and
nailed a bloodless three-pointer practically from the Duke bench.
After two missed Maryland free throws, another Williams
three-pointer cut the lead to two with :38 to go. Then senior
Nate James--the son of a Marine, the guy "who's in the boiler room
making the yacht go," as Krzyzewski puts it--stared into a
hostile, placard-waving crowd and made two free throws to tie the
game at 90 with 21 seconds to play. "I did the same thing I
always do," said James. "Imagine I'm back in the gym, nobody
around except someone throwing the balls back to me. I never
heard the crowd."
Duke's dual dynamos did it all in the five minutes of overtime.
Williams made two free throws, assisted on a Battier
three-pointer and picked up a steal. In addition to nailing the
trey, the 6'8" Battier made a free throw, grabbed two offensive
rebounds and sealed Maryland's misery. With time running out, the
Blue Devils clinging to a two-point lead and Terps guard Juan
Dixon heading for the basket, there was Battier, having seen the
play develop, sloughing off his man and waiting in the driving
lane. He went up and cleanly rejected Dixon's shot to send Duke
to 19-1 and Maryland to 14-5 and agonizing introspection.
The Blue Devils have had many types of leadership during the
Coach K Era--Bobby Hurley's New Joisy-guy toughness, Christian
Laettner's use-the-opponent's-gullet-as-a-doormat insolence,
Grant Hill's statesmanlike smoothness--but none stand up to the
Battier blueprint. He's the rap-on-the-knuckles nun who gets on
his teammates, Williams included, if they don't execute practice
drills correctly. He's the mother hen who pumps up the lowest
reserve. He's the studious debater who talks politics and
economics with backup big man Matt Christensen (Battier is the
liberal; Christensen, the son of a Harvard business professor, is
the conservative). He's the earnest student-athlete who likes to
show Krzyzewski that he has pored over every nuance of the
During an 85-62 home win over Wake Forest on Jan. 24, for
example, Krzyzewski sent the team out for the second half with
instructions to run its "line" alignment on out-of-bounds plays.
"Is that traditional line or modified line, Coach?" Battier
asked, remembering that Krzyzewski had tweaked the formation on a
previous occasion. Battier is Al Gore with mad hops. He may also
be player of the year.
Then again, he may not. His 19-year-old teammate, Williams, is a
player so gifted that he already seems to be a blend of the three
Dream Team guards against whom he competed last summer as a
member of the U.S. Select Team--equal parts Tim Hardaway (stocky
body type), Jason Kidd (versatility) and Gary Payton
(gamesmanship). The Hardaway torso gives the 6'2", 196-pound
Williams an advantage when he gets into the paint. "Even when
he's not quite by you, he's in effect by you," says Duke
assistant Johnny Dawkins. "He's too strong and solid to let you
get back in front of him." The Kidd game gives him an arsenal
that can fill up a box score (25 points, seven rebounds, five
assists and two steals against Maryland). Finally, the Payton
'tude gives Duke the cocksure court presence that opponents still
think it lacks.
Yet it was a Laettner-esque aspect that came out a little too
strongly to suit Krzyzewski when, during the final seconds of a
97-75 win over Boston College at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan.
16, Williams got into a taunting match with opposing guard Kenny
Walls. Williams admits the woofing was a mistake, but then talks
proudly of never wincing as he stared into the Glove's galloping
gums last summer. "Payton tried to take me out of my game with
his trash talking," said Williams, relaxing in the team hotel the
night before the Maryland game, "and I don't let anybody do that,
not even him. I was nervous going against [the Dream Teamers] in
the beginning, but you know what I found out? I could go around
all of them pretty easy. When you find out you can compete at
that level, you pretty much have the confidence to compete here."
Jeez, does this sound like a kid who goes to Duke? "I think we
get looked on as the pretty boys of college basketball a little
too much," says Williams. "Yes, we play for a great program with
a great tradition, and, yes, we handle ourselves with pride and
dignity. All that's important. But a lot of teams try to punk us
around. They think, If you hit Duke, they'll whine or they'll
cry. Well, we're not whining, we're not crying. We're not going
With Williams, they may be going straight to the top. On Saturday
night, in the cauldron that was Cole Field House, in the midst of
one of the ACC's most memorable games, Williams was lost, and
then he was found. Whether you were playing with him, playing
against him or only watching him, it was almost impossible to
absorb the brilliance of his game and maintain the chi.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN HIGH LOW Williams took the body and Battier took the shot of Maryland's Tahj Holden.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN WHAT GOES UP Mouton helped lift the Terps to a 15-point lead, but it wasn't enough.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANNY MILLAN RACIN' JASON The multidimensional Williams had 25 points, including eight in a 13-second span in the final minute of regulation.
Williams and Battier, Duke's dual dynamos, did it all in those
final five minutes.
"Teams think, You hit Duke, they'll whine," says Williams. "Well,
we're not whining."