ATLANTA -- If there was ever any doubt that March Madness has arrived, Duke and Maryland provided the answer in Saturday's semifinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Late lead changes. Timely perimeter shooting. An unlikely hero. Last-second desperation. This one had it all.
When it was done, Duke had an 84-82 victory, capped by a tap-in by the Blue Devils' Nate James that somehow found the rim and fell through with 1.3 seconds remaining.
For the second time this season, the Blue Devils and Terrapins provided a season's worth of drama in 40 minutes. On Jan. 27, Duke stole a 98-96 overtime win from Maryland in College Park, Md., erasing a 10-point deficit in the final minute.
"It's under our contract with ESPN," said Duke's Shane Battier, who had a game-high 20 points in the semifinal win. "We're allowed to provide a certain number of 'Instant Classics' every year."
Prior to James' follow, Maryland's Steve Blake canned a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 82 with 8.1 seconds remaining. Though the Blue Devils (28-4 overall) had one timeout remaining, they opted to put the ball in the hands of Jason Williams, their All-ACC guard, and have him drive.
Williams (19 points) quickly weaved his way through traffic and into the lane where he lifted a layup that missed the mark. Several players tried for the rebound, but James (14 points off the bench) swooped into the lane and managed to climb a notch higher to get a hand on the ball for the follow.
On the inbounds, Maryland forward Terence Morris (12 points) threw a long pass to Juan Dixon. After Dixon (17 points and seven rebounds) caught the slightly deflected pass about 45 feet away from the basket, he gathered and got off an open shot which was on line, but bounded off the left side of the rim at the buzzer.
"Juan was right in front me there on the bench, so I had a pretty good angle and it was just a little left all the way, but he really had a good look," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Messing around in practice, he can shoot the ball pretty well from that distance. He put a pretty good stroke on it and it had a chance."
Trailing 45-42 at the half, Duke hit four consecutive 3-pointers to start the second half and raced to a 54-47 lead. The perimeter barrage would ignite the Blue Devils on a 19-2 run, giving them their largest lead at 61-47 with 15:20 remaining.
Maryland (21-10) started the game quickly, grabbing a 10-0 lead before Duke stormed back with a 12-2 run to tie thegame with 12:09 remaining in the first half. Though the Blue Devils shot just 36 percent (27-for-75) for the game, the Terps hurt themselves by committing 20 turnovers, which Duke turned into 18 points. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils protected the ball well, committing a season-low six turnovers.
No. 6 North Carolina 70, Georgia Tech 63
No. 6 North Carolina knocked off the hometown favorite to put itself in a familiar position: the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Joseph Forte ignored foul trouble to score 27 points and the Tar Heels survived a scare from feisty Georgia Tech for a 70-63 semifinal victory Saturday.
Forte, who also had 12 rebounds, hit two key free throws with 33.6 seconds remaining and added a finishing layup at the buzzer to put the Tar Heels (25-5) into the final against the winner of the other semifinal between No. 3 Duke and No. 11 Maryland.
The Yellow Jackets (17-12) hung tough despite a horrible stretch in which they missed 17 shots in a row, encompassing the final eight minutes of the first half and the first 2 1/2 minutes after the break.