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One Devil Of A Team

March 17, 1986
March 17, 1986

Table of Contents
March 17, 1986

Duke
Big East
Joaquin Andujar
Blackhawks
The Fridge
Pat Porter
Debi Thomas
College Basketball
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

One Devil Of A Team

No. 1-ranked Duke charged into the NCAAs after knocking off Georgia Tech for the ACC title

Family ties. Duke coach K (for Mike Krzyzewski) explains the game to the assembled media, with daughter D (for Debbie) on one side and wife M (for Mickie) fondling his arm on the other. A freshman reserve Q (Quin Snyder) runs around the locker room snapping pictures of his older, more illustrious teammates. And when the SA (Student Animals) are finished haranguing the silver-haired enemy coach as well as his woebegone defeated troops by chanting "Grecian Formula" and by waving the ever-popular DIE POND SCUM signs, they sit obediently on the court, picnic-round-the-campfire style, as the student athletes receive the spoils of victory.

This is an article from the March 17, 1986 issue Original Layout

Tommy Amaker to Johnny Dawkins at the free-throw line a few minutes earlier: "Ice water, man."

No, this isn't another cloying TV sitcom, but merely the most recent in a season-long succession of victories that the senior-laden Duke Blue Devils have achieved with a marvelous blend of grace, humor and requisite camaraderie that would be perfectly revolting if it wasn't so sincere, not to mention indispensable, to the groundwork of gaining and remaining No. 1.

The Dookies are college basketball's answer to the Osmonds, and on Sunday in Greensboro, N.C. they needed every bit of that experience, love and brotherhood once again to squeak by Georgia Tech 68-67 for their 32nd victory and the championship of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Dawkins actually announced, "Together we stand, divided we fall," without wincing, which may have taken more guts than grabbing the saving rebound and hitting the clinching foul shots, both of which the 6'2" whippet guard also accomplished.

Team chemistry? Parts amounting to greater than the whole? The day before, Duke had survived Virginia in the semifinals only after burly center Jay Bilas—"our offensive lineman," Krzyzewski calls him—stole a pass in the open court for a dunk, and after David Henderson scored eight points in the final 3:32. Then on Sunday, freshman Danny Ferry came off the bench to contribute six points and eight rebounds. Mark Alarie stuck his movie-star face and his pet baseline jumper high above three Tech defenders and finally put Duke ahead to stay 66-65 with 44 seconds left. And then Amaker helped Dawkins double-team the Yellow Jackets' dangerous Mark Price so that Price had to give up the ball to the .429-shooting Craig Neal.

At the 10-second mark, Neal's 18-footer from the corner was short off the rim. The ball caromed directly to Dawkins, and after Price fouled him, Johnny D ended a raging jewel of a contest with two sweet free throws.

"I don't know if we're the best team, but we play together the best," said Krzyzewski, echoing that party line again. Well, at least one point better together than Georgia Tech.

Surely, however, Dawkins is first among the equals. In 1983, Price beat him out as the ACC's top freshman. But Dawkins has gone on to be the most productive offensive player in league history—the only one to amass more than 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. He outscored (20-16) as well as out-shot (7 of 14 vs. 6 of 18) Price in their final ACC showdown, and now he has capped his final ACC season with a famous defensive play: a grab-the-rebound-and-bolt-the-door twin killing of his bitter Tech rival.

Curiously, Duke's barbed-wire help-out man-to-man defense seems to have gone unnoticed over this scintillating season. But Blue Devil opponents have "been coerced into making 19.4 turnovers per game (better by two than the vaunted Georgetown pressure forced last season), and, in a split of their regular-season games, Georgia Tech contributed mightily to that number with 39.

In the ACC final, however, the more careful Jackets raised the level of the contest. They came from nine points down in the second half and, with a 13-1 onslaught featuring several inside baskets by 7-foot John Salley, Tech took a 49-46 lead with 11:08 left in the game.

Dawkins regained the advantage for Duke at 50-49 and again at 64-63 with a driving, pumping scooper in the lane with 1:35 to go. Still, the Tech bees, who were finally playing up to the potential promised by their own No. 1 ranking back in November, would not buzz off. Neal, subbing for the fouled-out Bruce Dalrymple, drove around Amaker to give the Jackets another lead. But it would not last. Alarie took care of that—"Salley was fatigued. Nobody challenged me on the shot," he said—and the Duke defense did the rest.

Not that Neal didn't have an opening. Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said he admired Price for dishing off and Neal for firing away, but given their druthers the Techsters would have preferred Salley to get the ball low. "I pulled the string," a crestfallen Neal admitted. "Then it felt like I swallowed my heart."

Even as these November-March book-end No. 1s settled parochial matters, it was not easy to forget how still a third ACC team—the late, not so great and currently prostrate North Carolina Tar Heels—had topped the rankings for most of the three months in between: truly a remarkable trifecta for the old conference, which has never ceased finding itself remarkable in any case. For all its posturing and press-agentry—no, it is not true that the league is booked for a guest shot with Ted Koppel—it would be difficult to imagine any conference having a better year, both team-and player-wise. In addition to Dawkins, Maryland forward Len Bias and North Carolina center Brad Daugherty may have been the best seniors at their positions in the land—they likely will be the one-two picks in the coming NBA draft—and they are just a sampling from a long, double-figure list of the league's upper-classmen coveted by the pros.

Inevitably, the six ACC teams that had won 18 games or more were rewarded with invitations to the NCAA tournament. For Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State and Maryland it is a new spring; for crippled North Carolina the question is no longer whether the Tar Heels can win the national championship but whether they might win a rematch with Brown (which they beat 115-63 in December). Alas, Carolina has to play Utah in the first round.

Beleaguered coach Dean Smith might have been excused if he had packed it in for the ACCs to give his Heels a chance to heal in time for the NCAAs. After Steve Hale (partially collapsed lung) and Warren Martin (sprained foot) went out, the Heels reeled into Greensboro, losers of three of their last four games. Carolina avoided total depression only when Virginia Beach high school phenom J.R. Reid announced he would sign on for the future.

Late most every season somebody gets hurt for Carolina—Phil Ford and Walter Davis in 1977, Kenny Smith in '84, Hale last year. Sure enough, just as soon as Hale appeared hearty last week against Maryland, 6'10" forward Joe Wolf crashed to the court early in the first half and had to be carried away with a sprained ankle.

Though the Tar Heels led Maryland at the half 34-28, the numbers of the Terps' Bias were more meaningful: two baskets, five turnovers; pennies from heaven for Carolina. Soon, without Wolf, the Tar Heels could not guard Bias—he had 13 points and 10 rebounds after intermission—nor play their high-low double-post offense with Daugherty alone. Maryland scored 18 of the first 21 points in the second half for a 46-37 lead and later outran the losers 20-4, as Terp guards Keith Gatlin and Jeff Baxter lit up the Carolina backcourt for 39 points. A helpless Daugherty did not score a field goal for a stretch of 16½ minutes in the 85-75 Maryland victory. "Wonder if J.R. saw this one," Maryland coach Lefty Driesell chortled. Daugherty did find time to interrupt some standard Terrapin taunting and prevent a fight.

"I just told Bias," said Daugherty, "to tell his guys to shut up because they won't play that way tomorrow."

Ah, but the Terps would. "Hey, give us credit. This was no upset," crowed Bias. It was a reasonable statement considering the fact that Maryland had begun the ACC season by losing its first six games but had turned around to win seven of its last nine.

Possessing the body of a Greek god and a surly demeanor, the 6'8" Bias has had a spectacular big-game year—41 points against Duke, 35 against Carolina, 30 against Georgia Tech. A sometime artist and a self-described born-again Christian—"Yeah," says Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times, "from the church of the Holy Vicious Elbow"—Bias was MVP of the ACC tournament as a sophomore when Maryland won it in Greensboro in 1984.

This season Driesell has called Bias "the player of the universe" and suspended "Leonard" for breaking curfew one night in Raleigh. Since Feb. 13 Maryland had only been beaten when Bias's punishment caused him to miss a game at Clemson and when Georgia Tech shot 18 for 21 in the second half in College Park.

But then came the semifinals on Saturday, when Tech again employed the kind of slam-bam, instant-shock, sudden-death, reverse-plot device that makes tournament play so wacky and wonderful. The situation was this: Maryland had taken command at 47-41 on a Bias baseline jumper early in the second half, when the defensive effects of the Yellow Jackets' Salley quickly were felt. Bias started missing shots, throwing away passes, looking frustrated. "Just some cheap stuff," Salley semikidded, explaining his tactics. "Banging his forehead, jabs to his stomach. It's kind of hard to jump over me."

Maryland went 9:23, and Bias himself more than 11 minutes, without a field goal as Georgia Tech rallied to take a 62-60 lead. But then Bias did jump over Salley, not to mention the moon, to tie the game with 12 seconds left.

And now the defenses really got serious. First it was Maryland's turn, with the Terps' double-teaming Price as he flashed into the open court; ball to Maryland, five seconds remaining. This time everybody in the building and on all the ships at sea knew where the play was going, and after two timeouts Gatlin set up to pass inbounds to Bias.

But Tech's sophomore forward Duane Ferrell slipped around a screen much the way he had slipped out of his hometown Towson, Md. to Atlanta. He rushed into the top of the foul circle, where, in full stride, he picked off Gatlin's balloon and roared downcourt unmolested for the winning 64-62 dunk.

"Aw, ha-ell. Thirty-one years of coaching and I never lost one like that. I think that was Dalrymple's only basket of the game, too," drawled Driesell, who has had a difficult enough time figuring out his own name this season (Charles or Lefty), much less the correct names of the heroic opposition.

Duke's path to the finals was equally nonroutine, initially blocked by the magic gnome, 5'3" Muggsy Bogues of Wake Forest, whose speed and elusiveness disrupted the Blue Devils' precision (10 assists in a 68-60 defeat) and who received a standing ovation even from that infamous Duke student section, which usually mocks him as Webster.

Duke also needed two late three-point plays from the corrosive Henderson to subdue Virginia 75-70 after the Cavaliers had benefited from a last-second air-ball boulder by N.C. State's Bennie Bolton to hold off the Wolfpack 64-62. "I set up the perfect clinic play, and my guy throws a curve ball," wailed State coach Jim Valvano. "Now I'm like everybody else out there. Tickets! Who needs tickets? I figure I can still make about $500 tonight."

For Duke, though, blood took priority over money. Indeed, the win over Virginia sweetly underscored how far Coach K has taken his senior Devils. Dawkins, Alarie, Bilas, Henderson and reserve Weldon Williams were freshmen on an 11-17 Duke team when Ralph Sampson and the Cavs knocked them out of this same tournament 109-66. "You think we don't remember? You think our names aren't still in the Duke record book for that?" said Bilas.

"Ralph even said we played dirty," recalled Krzyzewski with a laugh last week. "Imagine how bad we'd have been if we had been clean."

Nowadays, the No. 1 and NCAA-favorite Dookies are good and crisp and pure, and clean as the driven snow. If all the pond scum dies over the next three weeks, the members of the Blue Devil class of '86 will write their names more illustriously in that record book.

PHOTOMANNY MILLANBilly King scored just five points, but Tech's Tom Hammonds certainly felt his presence.PHOTOJOHN IACONODawkins bothered the Yellow Jackets from inside, outside, and on and off the glass.PHOTOJOHN IACONOPrice control was simple enough for Duke (left), but ball control was at times tough.PHOTOMANNY MILLAN[See caption above.]TWO PHOTOSMANNY MILLANBias gave the Tar Heels the first-round fits, whereas Gatlin gave them the horns.