Favored Duke falters in close title game
Posted: Tuesday March 30, 1999 09:51 AM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The question lingered all season. As the blowout wins mounted, how would Duke fare in a close game with everything on the line?
When it came to that time at the Final Four, the Blue Devils -- this team of 20-point blowouts and unbeatable proportions -- were no better than a .500 club.
Mike Krzyzewski had been here plenty of times. He told his team that a national title most people all but handed to Duke weeks ago wouldn't be as easy as everyone predicted.
Duke's six-point victory over Michigan State in the national semifinals Saturday raised some questions. The Connecticut Huskies answered them with a 77-74 victory Monday night that denied the Blue Devils (37-2) their third national championship of the 1990s.
"It wasn't a matter of us being overconfident," said Duke forward Shane Battier. "UConn was a helluva of team. They really came out focused."
In the Duke locker room, players stared off into space in silence. Senior Taymon Domzalski -- all 6-foot-11 of him -- was squeezed inside his locker, not wanting to face reality.
"It stings," added Domzalski, his eyes welling up with tears. "It was a great race we ran but it didn't end the way we wanted it to.
"This one we felt like we had it right there in our hands and it slips away, we were fighting and clawing, but it was a tremendously helpless feeling. We did everything we could but it just didn't happen."
Krzyzewski, coaching in his fifth title game of the '90s, said he could handle Duke losing the title if his team didn't beat itself. He and the Blue Devils came face-to-face with that prospect late in the game as the Huskies refused to wither or be intimidated by Duke's gaudy record or reputation.
"Anyone who expects me to be down about this game, they don't understand me," said Krzyzewski. "I'm not going to be down about this game because it would take away from my experience with this group."
Trailing by one with 24 seconds left, Krzyzewski put the ball in the hands of his senior leader Trajan Langdon, who led the Blue Devils with 25 points.
This time, however, Langdon didn't come through.
His path halted by UConn defensive stopper Ricky Moore, Langdon traveled trying to drive into the lane with Duke trailing by one. Then, after a pair of free throws by Khalid El-Amin, Langdon lost the ball trying to make a play, any play that would save Duke, falling to the ground as the clock ran out.
Krzyzewski's wife, Mickie, buried her hands in her face, and Langdon was consoled by assistant coach Quin Snyder as the Blue Devils walked off the court in stunned disbelief, heads hanging low.
"That's the way the game goes," said Langdon. "But that's not the game, there's millions of plays in that game that determine the outcome. So, I'm not going to hang my head on that play.'
In the end, all the double-digit wins didn't matter as Duke became the 20th straight team with zero or one loss entering the NCAA tournament to come away without the crown.
"We win together, we've had a lot of success, and we lost together," said Chris Burgess. "But it happened." Duke plans a celebration at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the scene of many blowout wins this year, Tuesday afternoon. What will Battier tell them?
"They should be proud of us regardless of what happened," Battier said. "This was a magical season, it didn't end the way we had hoped. But not too many teams can say they won 37 games in a season."
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