COLLEGE PARK, Maryland – Fifteen March Madnesses ago, Maryland reigned supreme.
Maryland’s 2002 National Championship, the only title in school history, was seemingly the perfect storm: Cole Field House’s final season and redemption for the previous season’s Final Four loss. But the season wouldn’t have been complete without a victory over Duke.
After dropping the first meeting of the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium, anticipation around College Park mounted for the rematch. No. 3 Maryland would host the reigning national champions and No. 1-ranked Blue Devils on Feb. 17, 2002.
Maryland’s Steve Blake moved around Blue Devil Chris Duhon to get an open look at the basket with 40 seconds to go in the first half, converting for a 36-29 Terrapin lead. Duke’s Jay Williams walked the ball up the court, intending to kill some clock for the half’s final shot.
Cole Field House erupted, and Williams strained to hear Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s instructions from the bench behind him. He turned around once. Then twice. Blake was offended.
“I was like, I can’t believe he’s just completely ignoring me that way and not paying attention,” Blake said.
If Williams turned his head one more time, Blake vowed to strike. With eight seconds left on the ticking clock, Williams invited Blake to make a moment. Blake obliged.
“Oh, he steal!” CBS analyst Billy Parker managed to shout as the Terrapin guard rocketed toward the ball, stealing it from Williams and streaking down court for a last-second layup.
For as loud as Cole Field House was when Williams was trying to listen to his coach, Blake’s buzzerbeater sent it into hysteria.
“I thought the roof was going to come off,” Maryland’s Drew Nicholas said.
Maryland went into the break with a 38-29 advantage, one it would not release, eventually winning 87-73. The momentum of that play helped the Terps hold on.
“A lot of times, you don’t want to gamble like that at the end of the half,” Blake said. “I was able to take advantage and it just made it that much sweeter that it was against Duke. (It helped) us go into halftime feeling good.”
The “Oh, he steal” moment is one of the most remembered in Maryland basketball history. It provided Cole Field House, an iconic and historic building in the grand scope of college basketball, with its loudest roar.
“I spent three years at Cole Field House as a player, and every game almost felt like it was a national championship-type game and atmosphere,” ex-Terrapin Tahj Holden said. “In that moment, it was probably the loudest I had heard Cole Field House in my entire time at Maryland.”
The win was Maryland’s 21st of the season and helped the Terps win their first outright ACC regular season championship since 1980. But the storybook season only got better one month later when Maryland defeated Indiana 64-52 in the national championship, finally accomplishing the goal every previous Terrapin team failed to achieve.
Now the site of Maryland’s triumph over Duke is being transformed into an indoor football practice facility, and many of Maryland’s current players were trading Pokemon cards and playing with Legos in 2002.
The Terps no longer play in the ACC and last met Duke in 2014 with no matchups planned for the future. Gary Williams left the bench more than half a decade ago, and most of the players on the court during that steal have retired from basketball.
But for as long as basketballs bounce, the legend of Blake’s steal will never die.