Dixon's late clutch jumper sends Terps into title gamePosted: Sunday March 31, 2002 12:58 AM
Updated: Sunday March 31, 2002 3:05 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
ATLANTA -- Maryland needed every ounce of senior cool it had. It needed all the experience, all those horrible memories of last year, all that bad in its past to find, finally, the good of Saturday night.
And, hoo boy, did the Terrapins need Juan Dixon.
Maryland steamrolls into its first national title game on Monday night -- it will be against an Indiana team that has surprised just about everyone -- because of Dixon's cool-headed play and clutch shooting. The Terrapins won their semifinal game Saturday in the NCAA Tournament against top-ranked Kansas when Dixon single-handedly brought the Terps back from near disaster not once, but twice.
He scored 19 points in the first half to put the Terps on top -- this after Kansas stormed out to a 13-2 lead -- and was the man who, in the second half, scored what may go down as the two most important baskets in Maryland history.
And he scored when no one else could.
"Juan is Juan," said his teammate, Byron Mouton. "He's gonna do what it takes."
The Terps crawled out of that early 13-2 hole, thanks to Dixon's hot hand, and had a seven-point lead at the half, 44-37. They held off the Jayhawks when they pulled within two, at 52-50, with about 15 minutes left in the game. Maryland pushed the lead to a head-shaking 20 points when Dixon knocked down a 3-pointer from the left baseline to make it 83-63 with 6:06 remaining.
And then the Terps collapsed.
Well, maybe Kansas, the No. 1 team in the country, helped Maryland's fall a little. But for a stretch of more than four minutes, the sureshot Terps suddenly looked like anything but. They didn't score a single field goal and saw that 20-point lead whittled to five, at 87-82, with a little more than two minutes left in the game.
It was all too reminiscent of last season, when the Terrapins blew a 22-point first-half lead in the first national semifinal game in school history, eventually losing to eventual champion Duke. And don't think that didn't go through a few players' heads.
"It did a little bit," admitted Maryland forward Tahj Holden, who was huge with 13 points and five rebounds off the bench. "But that was a totally different situation. We just maintained and kept fighting and fighting."
When it came right down to it, Maryland also turned to the man who they knew would come through for them: Dixon.
"He's just a great player, and he stepped up," said Kansas forward Nick Collison. "I think Dixon just stepped up and made two or three that were backbreakers."
With the score 87-82 with about 1:30 left, Maryland point guard Steve Blake got the ball to Dixon on the left wing. He dribbled around his man to the baseline, found an open spot when Kansas big man Drew Gooden was pulled away from the play, then pulled up when Kansas guard Jeff Boschee went over to try to draw a charge.
Pulled up and drained the short jumper that essentially buried the Jayhawks.
"They were trapping, I think," Blake said. "I got the ball out to him, and he was able to lose his man and get baseline. He took one or two dribbles and pulled up."
It might have been a downright easy shot if not for Boschee coming over and trying to draw a charge.
"I saw Boschee coming up and I just had to stop on a dime," said Dixon. "I just wanted to be aggressive."
Dixon, the leading scorer in Maryland history, came into the game averaging 20.1 points a game in this tournament. He finished with 33 points. He made the Terrapins' only two baskets in the last 6:06 in the 97-88 win.
"You could feel them starting to get back into it," Blake said. "If we didn't get that [second jumper by Dixon], the game might have changed."