Defense won a championship
Maryland turned tables on defensive-minded IndianaPosted: Tuesday April 02, 2002 1:32 AM
ATLANTA -- A lot has been made about how Indiana arrived at this point by playing tough defense. But Monday night Maryland gave the Hoosiers a taste of their own medicine. Yes, Maryland, the Terrapins know how to D up.
Maryland took advantage of its size down low and extended its defense on the perimeter, keeping Indiana off balance much of the evening. The Hoosiers hit their open 3-pointers, finishing 10-for-23 (43.5 percent), but shot just 10-for-35 (28.6 percent) from inside the arc. Indiana's three forwards -- Jared Jeffries, Jarrad Odle and Jeff Newton -- combined to make just six out of 22 shots.
"They were definitely physical," Jeffries said. "They really didn't do a whole lot of fouling, not a lot of bumps. They did a good job of not going across the arms and just contesting shots."
Indeed, it seemed like most of the evening, there was a Terrapins defender in the face of every Hoosier. Only great ball rotation or a solid screen could create an open shot, and that was just for a split second.
"I thought they did a really good job in the passing lanes," Indiana coach Mike Davis said. "They were really chesting us up defensively. We weren't strong with the ball, and they always had their hands on it. When we had open looks, they were there. It was similar to what Duke did to us."
"Their inside defense was great," Indiana guard Tom Coverdale said. "They didn't have to double team as much, so they could just lock down on our shooters. We really haven't faced a defense that could do the things that they did."
After Indiana made a run, keyed by a flurry of 3-pointers and a couple inside buckets by Jeffries, to briefly take the lead with 9:52 to play, Maryland coach Gary Williams conveyed an important message, and his charges responded. The Hoosiers scored just five more points the rest of the way, before throwing in a late 3-pointer.
"It's rewarding for me as a coach to see a team play defense like that for 40 minutes," Williams said.
As we have heard time and again over the last two months, the New England Patriots have become every general manager's blueprint for winning. The Patriots fashioned a team with low-salaried outcasts and journeyman, relied on a tough defense, and rode that chemistry to the Super Bowl.
Indiana proved that college teams can succeed in the same way. The unheralded Hoosiers featured a bunch of guys who probably were picked last for playground pickup games, yet they played tough-nosed defense, hit their open shots, and made it all the way to the championship game.
Though they came up short, maybe college coaches will start to realize, in this age of the most talented players leaving early for the NBA, that four-year players with an eye toward winning rather than a future paycheck can pay dividends.
"I think now this team knows how far it can come," Newton said. "We know that as a team if we keep fighting, we will always have a chance."
Clock strikes midnight
Indiana certainly did not go down without a fight. The Hoosiers did virtually everything they have been doing, controlling tempo, hitting their shots, keeping the other team out of sync.
"It took us a good 25 minutes before we really ran our offense like we can," Williams said. "It was frustrating because we weren't able to score like we thought we should."
Eventually, though, Indiana came back to earth. Heart can carry you a long way, but at some point talent still wins out.
"We had a chance tonight, but Maryland is a much better basketball team than we are," Davis said.
Echoed Newton: "Plain and simple, they were the better team."
Juan-der no more
If it wasn't clear before, it should be after the Final Four: Juan Dixon is an NBA player. Yes, he's on the small side and, no, he's not a true point guard, but he's quick, he's explosive, he has a trigger release, he handles the ball well, and he's an absolutely phenomenal defender, both on the ball and playing the passing lanes. The template for small NBA players always will be Allen Iverson, and though Dixon isn't in Iverson's class athletically, he possesses many of the same skills, as well as having perhaps the most important intangible: a driving need to succeed.
Though he was shut down for the middle of the game -- going more than 20 minutes without scoring -- Dixon once again delivered when Maryland needed him. He drained a 3-pointer to regain the advantage after Indiana had taken its only lead of the game at 44-42, then added an off-balance jumper two possessions later.
Dixon finished with 18 points (on just nine attempts) and five steals, earning Most Outstanding Player honors.
"I think he's the best player we played against this year other than Jason Williams," Davis said. "They're both in the same class."
And no one doubts Williams' credentials as a top-three pick. Dixon probably won't be a first-round selection and he may never be an All-Star, but he should be a solid NBA player for the next 10 years.
Both coaches paid tribute to their graduating seniors, a phrase which can be an oxymoron in today's college game.
Indiana will say goodbye to forward Odle and guard Dane Fife.
"I thought they really set the standards for the way it's going to be [at Indiana] from here on out," Davis said. "Both guys played with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion, played with their hearts."
Maryland's trio of four- and five-year men includes Dixon, and forwards Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton.
"The reason I'm here is the three people next to me," Williams said at the postgame press conference, flanked by his seniors. "Just incredible careers, never doubting what we were trying to do. ... Not many coaches get a chance to coach three great seniors like this. It was a thrill for me to watch these guys work this hard and get their reward."
Williams is the ninth coach to take his alma mater to the title, but the first since Norm Sloan and N.C. State won in 1974. When he took over in 1989, the program was coming out of the throes of Len Bias' cocaine-induced death and the subsequent problems during Bob Wade's tenure. Now, it has its first national championship.
"It's special. There's been so many good teams [over the years]," Williams said. "I hope everybody feels a part of this because it's the result of a lot of hard work, but it's a lot of people getting that feeling back that we could be as good as anyone in the country. I think you have to feel that way before you can do this thing for the first time."
Dot dots ...
Maryland won the 2002 national championship in the 2,002nd game in school history. ... It was hard to tell given the sea of red, but based on cheers, Indiana fans outnumbered their Maryland counterparts on the order of 2-to-1. ... After playing just 14 minutes in the national semifinals because of foul trouble, Baxter got of the schneid right away by opening scoring for Maryland on a nice reverse layup. He finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. "I just wanted to come in and be a force down low," he said. ... Why the Hoosiers love to play for Davis: Early in the first half, junior Kyle Hornsby blew an open layup by shuffling his feet. During the subsequent TV timeout, Davis went straight to Hornsby, put his arm around him, and told him not to worry. After the final horn, Davis walked all the way to the locker room with his arm on Coverdale's shoulder. ... Indiana trailed by six at halftime, largely because the Hoosiers missed their last five free throws before intermission, including the front end of two one-and-ones. As if that weren't bad enough, they didn't make one trip to the foul line in the second half.