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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL FINAL MARYLAND 64, INDIANA 52

Out of Their Shell

College basketball: Dixon and Terrapins wear down Hoosiers to earn first national title for school and long-suffering coach Williams.

April 02, 2002|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Indiana held the lead once in the game and held that lead for eight seconds in the second half Monday night before Maryland bushwhacked notions of Bob Knight taking credit for it or Gene Hackman signing on for a "Hoosiers" sequel.

For as much as Indiana had the basketball lineage, and the momentum, and the Terrapins' undivided attention, it ran much deeper than that for Maryland.

Maryland was bigger, stronger, quicker and, let's face it, has really been a bunch of ticked-off turtles since blowing a 22-point lead to Duke in last year's national semifinals.

It was no big surprise in the end when Maryland went on a 22-8 blitz in the last 9:44 to run away with a 64-52 victory before a crowd of 53,406 at the Georgia Dome to win the school's first basketball national title.

In the end, this was Maryland's tournament to lose, same as last year, and this time the Terrapins had no intention of blowing it.

In sum, this was Coach Gary Williams' just rewards 13 years after rescuing a program from the taint of Len Bias' and subsequent NCAA probation.

Cut the guy a break, right, if he doesn't know how to act in the end. Maryland led by 15 points in the last minute yet Williams was coaching like one Indiana shot would send the game to overtime.

Williams finally dropped his game face with 4.8 seconds left.

There would be no Jim Valvano leaps for Williams, a 57-year-old who thought this night might never come. The man is so stressed he blows through, on average, 10 suits a season.

"I've never done this before," Williams said of his subdued reaction to winning his first title."So I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be like. I'm very happy. It was a thrill. There's no doubt about it. But I'm really tired."

In the end, this was about three seniors, Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton, who had worked too hard for too long to let this moment slip from their grasp.

There was more than the Duke loss to overcome. Dixon lost both parents to AIDS while he was in high school.

"I've grown so much," Dixon said. "I've developed as a person and a basketball player."

Mouton's lost a brother to gun shots only last December.

It was Dixon, naturally, who let Indiana savor its 44-42 led for eight ticks on the clock before drilling a three-pointer from the corner to give his team the lead back for good.

Who else but Dixon, who overcame a tragic youth and string-bean legs to hit every clutch shot he needed to hit in a tournament in which he averaged 27 points per game and was named the most outstanding player.

Last week, after his dagger shots ended a Connecticut threat in the East Regional finals, Huskies' Coach Jim Calhoun remarked that Dixon's baskets, "just hurt more."

The Hoosiers are now feeling his pain.

Indiana's eight seconds of second-half glory were wrecked when Dixon took a pass from teammate Steve Blake and drained the three-pointer.

"I tried to let the game just come to me," Dixon said.

It always does in the end.

"I think you can't have the fear of failure," Williams said. "I think you just have to take that shot. Not every big scorer wants to take those shots. Juan has never backed away from a shot in that situation."

The pre-game talk focused on how Indiana's Dane Fife, a 6-foot-4 guard comprise for elbows and knees, might put the clamps on Dixon. Well, Fife "held" Dixon to a game-high 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and five steals.

Dixon made six of his nine shot attempts.

His three-pointer with 9:42 seemed to discombobulate Indiana. It was like the first punch that leads to a knockout.

The thing is, Fife and Co. did do a pretty good job on Dixon, holding him without a basket for 20 minutes in what stretch.

Yet, the cold-spell did not deter Dixon.

"It just tells you he has no fear," Indiana Coach Mike Davis said.

Indiana flailed back wildly, with Fife hitting a three-pointer to cut the Maryland lead to 47-46, but then Dixon struck again with a basket.

A Baxter dunk with 7:22 left pushed the lead to five, then two Tahj Holden free throws upped the lead to seven.

Indiana was slipping fast from this game's vine, losing its grip. The Hoosiers started firing shots in the general vicinity of the basket. They made five of eight three-pointers in the first half but only five of 15 in the second.

Indiana was out of range and gas.

"We couldn't make shots because they did a great job of taking away our open three-point shots," Davis said. "When we took them, they were contested."

Maryland kept pushing and Indiana couldn't push back.

Baxter kept taking the ball to the basket. If not him, it was sophomore forward Chris Wilcox.

Baxter finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

"He's so physical," Davis said of Baxter. "He was just kind of bulling our guys out of the way. He would step in real hard. He got the ball point-blank."

Wilcox had 10 points and seven rebounds. His defense also helped hold Indiana star forward Jared Jeffries, who averages 17 points per game, to eight points on 4-of-11 shooting.

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