Maryland needs to wake up to avoid tourney nightmare

March 16, 2001|By Mike Preston

BOISE, Idaho - The University of Maryland should have learned from other first-round NCAA tournament losses against smaller schools such as Santa Clara and the College of Charleston.

Instead, the No. 3-seeded Terps almost took another painful walk down memory lane yesterday before Maryland guard Juan Dixon made two three throws with five seconds remaining to secure an 83-80 win over No. 14-seeded George Mason in the first round of the 2001 tournament.

That's right, George Mason.

A Colonial Athletic Association team had the Terps staring into the abyss again. Didn't they learn anything from losing to Florida State earlier this season?

The only good thing that can be said about the game is that Maryland won, and maybe, just maybe, they'll wake up.

Maryland's road to the Sweet 16 can't get any easier. March Madness has virtually turned into a cakewalk. The Terps got George Mason in the opening round and tomorrow will play No. 11 seed Georgia State, which upset No. 6-seeded Wisconsin, 50-49.

Supporters of the Terps will say they expected George Mason to be a hard game because the two schools are only about 15 miles apart and the players know each other. They will say Georgia State will be formidable because the Panthers will be excited about seeking redemption for their coach, Lefty Driesell, who turned Maryland into a national power in the 1970s and 1980s.

But forget the excuses.

Driesell is a coach, not a player. While Georgia State showed a lot of guts rallying from 16 points down in the first half against Wisconsin, it amassed its 29-4 record against teams such as Mercer, Campbell, Jacksonville State and Florida Atlantic.

The NCAA has lofted Maryland one giant softball to hit into the Sweet 16.

"I think it's going to help us," said Dixon of the team's poor showing yesterday. "Every NCAA tournament, every high seed plays at least one tough game. You know last year Florida had that game against Butler. They lost that game - until Mike Miller steps up and hits a shot. Hopefully, it's the type of game that we can learn from. Saturday, I'm sure we're going to come out and play more aggressive."

They can't be any less assertive. Their top two big men contributed six total points, season lows for both forward Terence Morris (four points) and center Lonny Baxter (two points).

George Mason jumped out to a 12-4 lead in the first four minutes of the game, and the Terps had only two first-half offensive rebounds. If Maryland didn't get 22 points from small forward Byron Mouton, didn't have Dixon carry them in the first half and didn't have Patriots point guard Tremaine Price miss substantial time with cramps in both calves in the second half, they would be flying back to College Park.

The Terps weren't ready to play at tournament time, which has been a constant criticism of head coach Gary Williams in his 12 years at Maryland. Yesterday was a clear indictment.

How can a team in a one-game elimination tournament, playing against a team they beat by only 3 points a year ago at Cole Field House, play so flat when they were peaking in the previous weeks?

Just as disturbing was the play of Morris and Baxter. The 6-foot-8 Baxter was outplayed by 6-7 George Evans, who took him to school with an assortment of baseline and power moves near and inside the paint.

Evans finished with 27 points, 7 rebounds, four assists and was 7-for-10 from the foul line. Baxter was 1-for-4 from the field with six rebounds and four fouls from trying to stop Evans.

By the way, Evans went that-a-way.

As for Morris, he continues to be one of the biggest enigmas of the college basketball season. He has gone from the proverbial go-to guy to nowhere to be found.

Morris, a preseason All-American, didn't take one shot in the first half yesterday. Williams lifted him from the game for nearly 10 minutes in the second half. After returning, Morris missed two straight layups, and then missed two foul shots with 28.4 seconds left in the game that could have put Maryland ahead 83-80.

Anyone ready to insert freshman Chris Wilcox full time yet?

But this was a team effort. Dixon got beat repeatedly off baseline moves from Erik Herring, and worse yet, got no help underneath. The Terps had no toughness, no intensity yesterday, but might want to look at the George Mason film again.

Roll it back to with 16 minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the game. Mouton jumped over the back of Price at halfcourt, forcing him to fall to the floor in pain. Mouton eventually got the ball on a fast break, but as he was going to the basket, Patriots guard Jesse Young knocked him hard to the floor.

That's intensity. That's payback. You never saw that look on Morris' face all afternoon.

"I think all lower seeds come out and play really hard like George Mason did," Baxter said.

Bank on it.

Driesell is an old fox. He knows the Terps are a team that might be burdened by expectations. Meanwhile, Georgia State is the underdog, and Driesell was working the old Southern charm yesterday.

He likes the Cinderella role.

"I thought it was the greatest win I ever had," said Driesell, of his team's win against Wisconsin.

Then minutes later he said: "I don't know if it was the biggest win, but I always say that kind of stuff. I use all kind of stuff to get my team ready to play. Bulletin-board stuff. Talk. I think we're a pretty good team. I'll find out how good we really are. We want to be one of the last teams standing."

"We're Cinderella now," said Driesell. "I got a little slipper that they gave me when we went to Disneyland and had a picture taken."

The Terps are in a fine position too, playing another team they totally outclass. Two dates with Cinderella. But they better wake up or the big dance will be over.

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