BOISE, Idaho (Ticker) -- Nothing ever comes easy for Maryland in the NCAA Tournament.
Considered by many as a possible Final Four candidate after seemingly geting their act together down the stretch, the Terrapins barely avoided a stunning exit by holding on for an 83-80 victory over George Mason in a West Region first-round game.
"Every high seed always plays at least one tough game," Maryland guard Juan Dixon said of the third-seeded Terrapins. "Hopefully, this is the only one. I think George Mason really set the tone early. We stuck together." The win sets up an intriguing second-round matchup on Saturday as the Terrapins will take on former coach Lefty Driesell, whose Georgia State club upset Wisconsin in Friday's first opening-round contest at the Boise State Pavilion.
Driesell elavated Maryland into national prominence during his 17 seasons in College Park from 1970-86, once referring to the Terrapins as the "UCLA of the East." But Maryland never has reached the Final Four.
"He recruited one of my players when I was a high school coach," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "He had a lot to do with Maryland's resurgence back in the '70s. I want our players to know the history of basketball (at Maryland)." After nearly beating Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Maryland was viewed as a heavy favorite against George Mason. But the Terrapins (22-10) got all they could handle from the unheralded Colonial Athletic Association champions.
George Mason led by as many as eight late in the first half and stayed with the Terrapins throughout a tight contest that featured 12 lead changes.
Dixon and Bryon Mouton scored 22 points apiece for the Terrapins, who scored only two baskets in the final eight minutes. But one was a crucial 3-pointer by Steve Blake that gave Maryland the lead for good, 79-77, with 59 seconds remaining.
"We got strong players and we got the type of players that can finish in the end," Mouton said.
Mouton added two foul shots before Erik Herring drilled a 3-pointer to bring George Mason (18-12) within 81-80. Terrence Morris gave the Patriots a chance by missing two foul shots with 28 seconds remaining. Prior to the two misses, Maryland was 22-of-23 from the line.
With a chance to take the lead, George Mason tried to get the ball to leading scorer George Evans, who scored 27 points. But Tremaine Price's bounce pass went through Evans' legs, resulting in a turnover with six seconds left.
Dixon made a pair from the line with 4.9 seconds left before Price's desperation 35-footer caromed off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
Herring scored 19 points and Jesse Young added 12 for the Patriots, who burned the Terrapins by shooting 55 percent (27-of-49) from the field.
The 30-year-old Evans, who spent seven years in the Army serving in such places as the Persian Gulf and Belgium, among others, was one of the best field-good stories in college basketball this season.
The three-time CAA Player of the Year nearly willed the Patriots to what would have one of the biggest victories in school history. He was nearly unstoppable in the paint, making 10-of-15 shots.
Evans followed in Price's miss to give the Patriots their final lead, 77-76, with 1:11 remaining.
Despite making only two field goals down the stretch, Maryland shot 52 percent (28-of-54) and finished 24-of-27 from the line. Blake contributed 13 points.
The two schools, located just 30 miles apart on opposite sides of Washington D.C., traveled across the country to face each other for the fifth time. Maryland has won all five meetings.