True Grit

Maryland pulls away late to turn back Hoosiers, win first national crown

Dixon scores 18, earns MVP honors

Staggered after quick start, Terps close with 17-6 run

Baxter: 15 points, 14 rebounds

Maryland 64

Indiana 52

April 02, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - The buzzer sounded, Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter tumbled to the Georgia Dome floor locked in an embrace, and the Maryland Terrapins had completed their historic journey by winning the first national men's basketball championship in school history.

Maryland started fast, staggered in the middle of the contest, and took the best shot the Indiana Hoosiers could muster. But in the end, the Terps' senior tandem of Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter and Maryland's will carried the evening, as the Terps pulled away in the final eight minutes of a ragged affair to defeat Indiana, 64-52, last night.

Dixon, who was held without a point for nearly 20 minutes, rallied the Terps in the second half, finished with a game-high 18 points and was voted NCAA tournament Most Valuable Player. Baxter, who had ridden the bench in foul trouble for much of Maryland's semifinal win over Kansas on Saturday night, came back with a vengeance and wound up with 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

Maryland (32-4) put away the Hoosiers with a 17-6 game-closing run after Indiana had briefly taken the lead midway through the half and was still within 47-46 at the 8:30 mark.

But the Terps took over on the boards and at the free-throw line, and they finally put the clamps on the Indiana three-point shooters who gave the Hoosiers (25-12) hope that they could pull off an upset. And Maryland took over with Dixon and Baxter, who refused to be denied.

The Terps finished their greatest season ever by winning 19 of their last 20 games.

The loss denied an Indiana team that reached the title game as a No. 5 seed and was seeking its sixth national championship. The Hoosiers had upset top-seeded Duke in the South Regional semifinals, then shocked second-seeded Oklahoma in the national semifinals on Saturday night.

"We had to really grind it because Indiana plays great defense," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who brought his alma mater from the depths of probation 13 years ago to the pinnacle of college basketball. "It took us a good 25 minutes before we really ran our offense. ... We did some things the first half we don't usually do. When we started to play our game, we were able to go inside."

Williams had special praise for his three key seniors - Dixon, Baxter and Byron Mouton: "All those guys have character," he said. "It's been a thrill for me to watch those guys work."

The Hoosiers, who were outplayed decisively during the game's first 10 minutes, fed off a 14-8 run that closed the first half, fed off of their three-point shooters, and capitalized on a turnover-prone Maryland offense to forge a 40-40 tie with 11:43 left in the contest. That was the first tie since 2-2.

Dane Fife got the Hoosiers going with back-to-back three-pointers, as Indiana began the half by countering Maryland's inside strength from the wings. Chris Wilcox and Baxter made short bank shots to push the Terps in front 37-30. Fife's three-pointers cut the Terps' advantage to 35-30 and 37-33 with 15:05 left.

Indiana finally caught up to the Terps on a three-pointer by Kyle Hornsby that cut the lead to 40-38. Then, after Dixon - who went nearly 20 minutes without scoring in a stretch spanning both halves - missed a three-point attempt, Jeff Newton tipped in missed three-pointer by Hornsby to tie it.

Jared Jeffries then schooled Wilcox on back-to-back possessions by beating him for layups, the second of which gave the Hoosiers their first lead of the game at 44-42 with 9:53 left.

It didn't last, because Dixon reawakened by hitting the biggest shot of the game. His three-pointer from the left wing put the Terps back in front 45-44 with 9:41 to go. That started a 16-5 run that put Maryland within smelling distance of its title.

"I was trying to be patient," Dixon said of his key basket. "Let the game come to me. Steve [Blake] set me up and I made a big shot. ... Me and Lonny, we led our team to a national title. ... I can't put it into words. We were consistent the whole year and look at where we are today."

Not that Indiana went quietly. After Baxter made two free throws, Fife's 15-footer pulled the Hoosiers within 47-46, but the Terps responded with a 17-3 run that gave them a 64-49 lead with 1:43 left. Fueling the decisive run was a 9-for-10 show at the free-throw line by five different players.

Dixon and Baxter got the Terps going early by combining for nine 11 points to push Maryland to an 11-5 lead. Wilcox sandwiched a 16-foot jumper around a Baxter layup and a 3-foot lay-in by the senior center to begin the scoring. Dixon made a three-pointer form the left corner and a pull-up 18-foot jumper to finish a fast break with 15:11 left in the first half.

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