Williams takes his time
Duke star shakes off bad first half to help lead comeback
Updated: Saturday March 31, 2001 11:26 PM
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Jason Williams talks about playing relaxed, having fun and not holding back.
The patience of the sophomore All-American certainly was tested in Duke's 95-84 national semifinal victory over Atlantic Coast Conference rival Maryland on Saturday night.
The 6-foot-2 point guard came into the game averaging 28.8 points in four NCAA tournament games, but had a miserable opening 20 minutes, going 1-for-7 with four points.
His lack of offense was partly responsible for Duke (34-4) falling into what appeared to be an insurmountable 22-point hole.
Not with Williams on the floor.
He finished with 19 second-half points, helping key a marvelous comeback by the nation's top-ranked team, sending the Blue Devils into the championship game Monday night against the preseason No. 1 -- Arizona.
"We all got off to a pretty bad start, but Jason has done that a couple of times this year where his shot hasn't fallen and he's made some turnovers," Duke forward Mike Dunleavy said.
"But that's what's so different from last year. He would have just folded. This year he sticks with it and he's able to find his shot and he's able to make plays. That's why he's the top point guard in the country."
In addition to his offense, Williams teamed with backcourt mate Chris Duhon to stifle Maryland's attack. Duhon finished with 10 points after a slow start, and added six assists and three steals as Duke improved to 9-0 with him in the starting lineup.
Duke's 391 3-pointers were the most ever in a single-season and the Blue Devils led the nation by averaging 10.6 a game.
But the shot from behind the arc just wasn't there this time as Duke was 7-for-27 from long range.
That's where Williams and his ability to drive came into play. He helped get the Terrapins in major foul trouble and remained in the game himself after picking up his third foul with 18:17 left.
"I think Jason Williams in the first half was pretty out of it," Williams said. "Maryland was doing a great job defensively and it was very cold in that kind of atmosphere.
"It felt like we were waiting for one play to set the tone, but then we just kept fighting our way back to single digits."
That play might have been a late injury to Duhon.
He collided with Maryland point guard Steve Blake trying for a steal with 3:35 left and the pair violently tumbled to the floor.
Duke's ACC rookie of the year came out of it worse, hitting his head on the floor. The woozy Duhon was helped to the locker room with the Blue Devils up 80-79.
So it was up to Williams to run the Duke offense, and he did it masterfully. His driving layup with 1:23 left put the Blue Devils up 89-82 and all but sealed the win.
"We were really worried about him," Williams said of Duhon.
"You know Chris has been playing his butt off and he's become a key to our team. To see him go down -- it really made us hurt."
Duke is now 22-0 this season when scoring 90 or more points, and coach Mike Krzyzewski won his sixth straight NCAA semifinal game dating to 1990.
Dunleavy laughed when asked if Krzyzewski yelled at the team at halftime.
"We've had much worse," he said. "It was a thing like, 'Hey, let's start playing basketball.' It wasn't anything specific we were doing. We just needed to bear down.
"We were kind of taken back that we were down 22 and they were hitting everything. It seemed like we couldn't do anything right."
Williams and his teammates eventually did.
"He scares me sometimes," Duhon said of Williams. "But he just shows that he's a competitor. He had a bad first half, but in the second half I looked into his eyes and I knew Jason was going to do what he had to do. When he does that he's hard to stop."