Terps waiting til' next year

Basketball: Felled by the fates, the University of Maryland program finds its way back to NCAA glory.

April 04, 2001

SETTING ASIDE the celebratory vandalism, the madness of March reached its peak for the University of Maryland men's team about 11 minutes into its Final Four game.

How mad? How about a 22-point lead over Duke University, the perennial Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse and eventual NCAA champion?

Pretty mad even for March Madness. But, then, not so mad at all for Maryland in this coming out year.

In the semifinal of the annual championship to, the team from College Park had a lead that almost no one could justify or, as it turned out, defend.

Better to trail. Better to be the underdog. Big leads against worthy opponents are hard to handle. They allow doubt to replace confident struggle.

So, that situation and a bit of bad luck -- we won't comment on the poor officiating -- sealed the fate of the team this year. Just one of the quirky, real-life lessons that make this tournament so compelling. Coach Gary Williams, who always seems to be on the verge of an explosive breakdown, handled the last Duke loss by focusing on all his team had learned: how to compete with the nation's best; knowing it could, winning many big games.

So now the madness continues. Fans will be thinking and talking about a team with many good players returning -- if none of them decamp for the pros.

The 2002 Terps will have the strength and spirit of Lonny Baxter; the elan of Juan Dixon; the leadership of Steve Blake; the eagerness of Byron Mouton, Tahj Holden and Chris Wilcox.

They and their fans can look ahead to next year, which already seems maddeningly far away.

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