Terps on top
Dixon leads Maryland past Indiana, to first national titlePosted: Monday April 01, 2002 11:27 PM
Updated: Tuesday April 02, 2002 6:11 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Juan Dixon's smile grew wider and wider, his clapping faster and faster as the final seconds ticked away. When the buzzer sounded, he took the ball and heaved it high toward the roof of the Georgia Dome before falling to the floor in the arms of fellow senior Lonny Baxter.
The Maryland Terrapins had done it.
With Dixon and Baxter leading the way, they won their first national championship with a 64-52 victory Monday night, ending Indiana's magical tournament run as well as years of disappointment within their own program.
"I feel like I'm dreaming right now because I'm part of a national championship team," said Dixon, the All-American guard who snapped out of a scoring drought just in time. "It's a great feeling. I'm speechless."
This was the Terrapins' first appearance in a national championship game and the senior-laden lineup came through over the final 9:42, pulling away from the Hoosiers to become the fourth straight No. 1 seed to win it all.
Coach Gary Williams guided his alma mater from the depths of probation 13 years ago to the pinnacle of college basketball. He took over just three years after the cocaine-induced death of star Len Bias, inheriting a program wracked by scandal.
"Having played at Maryland, coming back at a time I hate to even think about because there was so much mistrust, so much doubt about the place of the basketball program at the University of Maryland," said Williams, who let his famous intensity melt long enough to celebrate with his players. "We had to work all those things out before we could even think about having a good basketball team."
Dixon scored at least 27 points in four of the first five tournament games, including 33 in the semifinal win over fellow top seed Kansas. He started the title game at that pace, scoring 11 points in the opening 10 minutes. He didn't score again for 20 minutes.
"We had to really grind it," Williams said. "It took us a good 25 minutes before we really ran our offense."
When he hit a 3-pointer with 9:42 to play, it gave Maryland (32-4) the lead for good at 45-44. The Terrapins, who lost a 22-point lead in losing to Duke in their first Final Four appearance last season and almost all of a 20-point lead in Saturday's semifinal, made sure even a small lead was safe this time.
"I was trying to be patient," Dixon said. "I was trying to let the game come to me. I hit a big shot."
It was one of many in a career that has seen him pass Bias as the school's all-time leading scorer.
"Not every big scorer wants to take those shots," Williams said. "Juan has never backed away from a shot in that situation. We had to counter right there. I thought the crowd was starting to get into it from Indiana. We needed something big to happen. Juan just did what he did all year for us."
Dixon finished with 18 points and he and Baxter combined for all the points in the 9-2 run that Dixon started with the 3 and Baxter ended with a dunk that made it 51-46 with 7:22 to play.
Indiana (25-12), which upset top-seeded Duke then shocked second-seeded Oklahoma in the semifinals, just couldn't come up with another stunner.
The team that had the country almost forgetting about Bob Knight, again used the 3-point shot as its main weapon.
The Hoosiers, who were 23-for-32 from behind the arc in the regional final against Kent State and Oklahoma, made eight of their first 12 Monday night. When Jared Jeffries' layup was goaltended with 9:53 left, Indiana had its only lead of the game, 44-42.
When Dixon and Baxter, who finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, stepped up, the long shots stopped falling. Indiana made just two of its 11 shots from behind the arc and its dream of being the first No. 5 seed to win a national championship started to fade.
"I thought their inside defense was great. That allowed them to not have to double-team as much, they could just lock down our shooters," Indiana guard Tom Coverdale said. "We haven't really faced a defense that could do the things that they did."
Kyle Hornsby led Indiana with 14 points and Dane Fife added 11. Jeffries, the Big Ten's player of the year, finished with eight points on 4-for-11 shooting. The Hoosiers finished 20-for-58 from the field (34.5 percent), the first time in the tournament they shot below 50 percent.
The Terrapins, who won 19 of their last 20 games, again were big on the boards, finishing with a 42-31 rebound advantage.
"They were definitely physical," Jeffries said. "They did a good job of preparing for us on defense."
The loss was the first for Indiana in six national championship game appearances. The last three titles -- 1976, 1981 and 1987 -- were won under Knight, who was fired two years ago for violating a zero-tolerance policy. Mike Davis, one of his assistants, was selected to succeed him and in just his second season he almost won it all.
"I think we went further than any team could go, other than Maryland," Davis said. "Who would have thought Indiana would be playing for a national championship?"
Dixon didn't miss a shot in the first half, going 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. His last shot came with 10:02 left and the baseline jumper gave the Terrapins a 21-11 lead.
Indiana's first 14 points came on four 3-pointers, two by Coverdale, and two free throws. The Hoosiers couldn't get a shot off in the paint and had to settle for outside shots.
After Drew Nicholas made two free throws to give Maryland a 25-16 lead with 7:59 left, the Terrapins missed eight straight shots, but Indiana was unable to take advantage of the cold spell and only trimmed two points off the lead.
Coverdale's drive at the buzzer brought the Hoosiers within 31-25.