Baxter delivers elite game, sends Terps onward

Center takes charge: 26 points, 14 rebounds

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Lonny Baxter couldn't play.

At least that's what you might have heard after Maryland's three-point squeaker over George Mason in the team's NCAA West Regional tournament first-round game in Boise, Idaho.

The junior center made only one of four shots, scored two points and didn't manage more than six rebounds against a vastly undersized defense. The sky wasn't falling on Baxter and fellow inside star Terence Morris, who also struggled. It was already buried under earth.

Consider the sky in its proper alignment again for Baxter, who delivered a 26-point, 14-rebound performance last night in Maryland's 76-66 victory over Georgetown. The 6-foot-8 senior kept the Terps close when no one else generated much offense.

"There's no other words to put it - he carried us," Maryland guard Drew Nicholas said. "He made some key baskets when we were struggling. He was just tremendous today. You couldn't ask for anything more."

Because of Baxter's effort, the Terps (24-10) advanced to their first regional final since 1975.

When things broke down, Baxter could be counted on to sink an unwieldy hook off the glass or, in one memorable second-half play, take a Morris miss in the middle of the lane, gather himself and ram a powerful dunk through several Georgetown players.

It was Baxter's second straight strong performance - he had 19 points and 14 rebounds against Georgia State - and his fourth double double in his past five NCAA games. It also came on a night when other Terps didn't rise to the occasion.

Junior guard Juan Dixon wasn't much of a presence during the first half with only four points. And forward Morris, Maryland's third-leading scorer with a 12.5-point average, had his shot blocked four times in the early going and could muster only two first-half points.

This isn't the first time Baxter has boosted the Terps in troubled times. His 15 points and 10 rebounds in only 24 minutes helped Maryland beat Duke on the road on Feb. 27. Before that came a 19-point, 14-rebound performance in a win over Wake Forest that helped revive Maryland's then-floundering season.

In the Hoyas, the Terps faced a team that sent wave after wave of capable big men into the game. Williams had anticipated countering Georgetown's inside depth with his own reinforcements down low.

Mike Mardesich (7 feet, 255 pounds), Chris Wilcox (6-10, 220) and Tahj Holden (6-10, 235), who played a total of 18 minutes in the two previous games, were expected to play more against the Hoyas. But except for Holden, who played most of the second half because Morris was ineffective, the big men didn't need to come in because Baxter demonstrated his capability.

It wasn't just the points. Midway through the second half, he fought off several Hoyas after a Lee Scruggs miss, grabbed a rebound and hit Holden with a court-long pass for a layup. Later, with Georgetown trapping Dixon, Baxter hustled to catch a stray pass that could have been a turnover but instead ended up as two free throws.

Afterward, he relished the victory, since he'd heard from a newspaper reporter that Scruggs had questioned his courage in the days before the game.

"Some one said that Lee Scruggs had called us soft, and I came out to prove them wrong," said Baxter, who shared a couple of hearty, post-game chest bumps with assistant coaches Dave Dickerson and Billy Hahn. "I was just trying to play my heart out. Who are they to say that we're soft?"

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