Maryland brought its high-powered offense into its Sweet 16 showdown with Georgetown Thursday night, intent on running the Hoyas right off the floor at the Arrowhead Pond.
Instead, the Terrapins got involved in a halfcourt game in which strong-armed center Lonny Baxter carried Marylandto a regional final for the first time in 26 years in a 76-66 victory before 18,008.
Maryland had reached the round of 16 twice in seven . previous tournament appearances under current Coach Gary Williams, who critics said was not the coach to get the Terrapins to the next level and that his teams showed too much finesse at one end and not enough muscle at the other.
Not long after the game ended, Williams took note of those critics.
"We win one more game this year and I'm a lot smarter," he said.
Saturday, Maryland (24-10) will play top-seeded Stanford (31-2), with the winner going to the Final Four at Minneapolis on March 31.
Another game like the one Baxter had Thursday night and Maryland could make its first Final Four appearance. Baxter had 26 points, making nine of 14 shots, and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Terrapins, who had a 51-41 advantage on the backboards--an area that as strength for Georgetown (25-8) all season.
Guard Juan Dixon, at 6-3, 153 pounds, outbattled the bigger Hoyas for five rebounds, while forwards Byron Mouton and Terrence Morris combined to get 13.
Baxter, a 58% free-throw shooter, could have given his team a little more breathing room, but he made only eight of 13 free throws. The Terrapins made 25 of 36 overall.
Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick, who has watched Baxter play since he was in high school, said that he didn't know what to do to stop the 6-foot-8, 250-pound junior.
"Lonny was giving us so much trouble," he said, "that I put two guys on him and the other guys on their team had to rebound because there was so much space for them."
The best the Hoyas could muster under the basket to counter Baxter was a 10-point, 11-rebound performance by freshman forward Mike Sweetney, who played much of the second half in foul trouble. Senior center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje fouled out without scoring and with only three rebounds. Freshman forward Gerald Riley came up with five points and no rebounds.
Guard Kevin Braswell led the Hoyas with 17 points, but was only four of 12 from the field. Maryland's zone defense did a good job of keeping Georgetown away from the basket, and that forced the Hoyas well beyond their usual shooting range. That can be a liability at the Pond, where first-timers complain it is difficult to gauge the basket because of the depth of field behind it. Georgetown made only 20 of 65 attempts (30.8%). Maryland had numerous layups and finished making 25 of 62 shots (40.3%).
"Every time I saw the ball I tried to catch it and go strong to the hole," Baxter said. "I knew they were big and strong and they liked to block shots."
The Terrapins never really got their offense, which averages 85.5 points a game, into high gear but Williams went to a 1-2-2 matchup zone defense late in the first half to keep Georgetown outside and stayed with it for the rest of the game.
Then, with Georgetown leading, 36-31, with 2:03 to go in the half, he went to a full-court press that turned the game around. The Terrapins scored the final seven points of the first half, including a rebound and buzzer-beating basket by Mouton for a 38-36 halftime lead. Maryland never trailed again.
"When you play Georgetown, they do things to throw you off," Willams said. "We were never able to run our plays in the first half, but as we settled down we were able to do what we wanted."
Williams said the press was something he has always appreciated.
"I like coaching that way, but it does not fit our team this season," he said.
Leading 44-38 three minutes into the second half, Williams put the press on again and it quickly added three more points in the Terrapins' favor, including a huge dunk by Baxter for a 47-40 advantage with 15:47 to go. Georgetown cut the lead to 47-45, but got no closer.
"That zone, we lost all of our momentum that we had built in the first half," Esherick said. "And that that full-court press really bothered us."