ATLANTA — Finally, the Final Four light shone through for Maryland's Lonny Baxter, a steady force in his team's 64-52 win over Indiana for the national championship.
With 15 points and 14 rebounds last night, the senior from Silver Spring, Md., erased unpleasant victories in the final game of his college career.
During last season's semifinal loss to Duke, during which the Terps squandered a 22-point lead, Baxter shot 2-for-10 from the field and fouled out on a questionable call late in the game.
"People asked me whether the Duke game was out of my mind," Baxter said last night. "I was like, `No, it won't be until I win a national championship.' Now it is, because we won tonight."
Baxter's Final Four struggles from last season continued Saturday in the semifinal against Kansas, when he got into early foul trouble and played only 14 minutes. Great performances by Chris Wilcox and reserve Tahj Holden were necessary to save the day inside for the Terrapins.
"I think I was a little overaggressive in some situations," Baxter said on Sunday. "But I was just playing my game. I play a physical game."
Last night, Baxter was just as physical, but he managed to stay out of foul trouble against a more slender Indiana team. Establishing himself down low, he had six points and nine rebounds in the first half.
Indiana center-forward Jarrad Odle - responsible for guarding Baxter for much of the game - acknowledged that the wide body was too much for him to handle.
"It was a tough matchup to begin with," Odle said. "I did not play well enough to contend with him to give us a chance to win."
Early in the second half, while tournament Most Outstanding Player Juan Dixon was shut down, Baxter stepped up, scoring six points during the first 10 minutes. He finished the game with three blocks and made a key deflection late in the game that contributed to Indiana's four-minute scoring drought.
After struggling from the free-throw line for much of the game - he finished 3-for-8- Baxter came through with the front end of a one-and-one to give the Terrapins a 56-49 lead with 3:03 left.
"I know how he felt after the game because he just didn't get a chance," Maryland coach Gary Williams said, referring to Saturday's game. "I know he was frustrated - but the thing about Lonny is that he never changes what he tries to do."
It was a fitting end to the career of Baxter, who had been unheralded and questioned out of high school before shedding the baby fat to become one of the school's best players in history and having his number hung from the rafters at Cole Field House.
For the second year in a row, he was the key player in getting the Terps to the Final Four, winning Most Outstanding Player awards in both years.
"I don't regret college or anything," Baxter said when asked about not going pro in his earlier years.
"It was the best four years of my life, and we just finished it off the way it should be done."