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Updated: Sunday, March 23, 2003 9:18 PM EST
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(6) Maryland 77, (3) Xavier 64
Maryland Terrapins
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Xavier (OH) Musketeers
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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Drew Nicholas had a different kind of clutch 3-pointer for Maryland.

Nicholas nailed a key shot from beyond the arc to quell a huge rally by third-seeded Xavier as the defending national champions moved into the semifinals of the South Region with a 77-64 victory.

Two days after Nicholas' running 3-pointer pushed Maryland (21-9) past North Carolina-Wilmington, the Terrapins dominated and built a 45-28 lead at halftime. Ryan Randle scored 11 points and hounded Xavier All-American David West into 2-of-8 shooting.

"I thought today we played better, because of the edge of the competition," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We felt comfortable out there today because we just played Friday."

West fought back in the second half as Xavier (26-6) gradually chipped away. Romain Sato split a pair of free throws to pull the Musketeers within 60-57 with just over six minutes remaining.

Nicholas helped put an end to Xavier's momentum by swishing a badly needed 3-pointer from the top of the key on Maryland's next possesion.

"It was huge," Maryland guard Steve Blake said. "They were making a great run at us, putting us on our heels. Drew came up and gave us a lot of confidence with that shot."

After a layup by the Musketeers' Anthony Myles, Blake nailed a jumper and Jamar Smith dunked for an eight-point lead with nearly 4 1/2 minutes to go.

The Terrapins move on to San Antonio, where they will face Michigan State on Friday. They are in the "Sweet 16" for the fifth time in six years and 13th time overall and are 13-1 in the last three NCAA Tournaments.

"Until we get beat, we're going to be the defending national champions," Terrapins forward Tahj Holden said. "We have a lot of experience and we use it to our advantage."

Randle and Nicholas each scored 17 points for Maryland, which shot 52 percent (30-of-58), the 13th time it topped 50 percent. Nicholas grabbed eight rebounds as the Terrapins held a commanding 39-28 edge on the glass.

Smith came off the bench and supplied plenty of energy, making all six shots for 12 points. The Terrapins' reserves flexed their muscles to score 23 points.

"He was incredible," Williams said. "Jamar's had some outstanding games and some games where he can't do it at that level. The second half especially, Jamar was very important to us."

Xavier, on the other hand, used just seven players and guards Sato and Lionel Chalmers each played the entire game. West, a three-time Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, finished with 22 points and nine rebounds in his final game.

"In the first half, the shots were going in and out," West said. "In the second half, I really had no problems scoring. It's tough, not playing another college game. It's nothing I can hang my head about."

The Musketeers actually scored the game's first five points before the Terrapins seized command. A dunk by Randle triggered 13 straight points that gave Maryland a 21-9 lead after Smith dunked with 10:39 to go in the half.

Freshman Travis Garrison's layup gave Maryland its largest lead at 43-25 and it settled for a 17-point bulge at intermission. The Terrapins held a 28-8 advantage in points in the paint over the first 20 minutes and had 12 layups to just one for the Musketeers.

"We just couldn't get into the fow of the game," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "Against a team like Maryland, you have to be clicking every second of the game."

The 45 points was the most allowed at halftime by Maryland this season.

"We dug ourselves a grave early," West said. "We fought back in the second half, but couldn't get it done. We just ran out of gas."

West was more aggressive in the second half and was able to get to the free-throw line. Still, he was powerless to stop Maryland's assault in the paint.

West capped a 9-2 spurt that pulled Xavier within 58-53 with 8:24 remaining, prompting a timeout by Williams. Holden scored out of the timeout before the Musketeers drew closer on a 3-pointer by Chalmers and Sato's free thow.

Blake handed out nine assists and added seven rebounds in 37 minutes, helping Maryland commit only seven turnovers. He owns 969 assists for fifth place on the NCAA's all-time list.

"Our execution was really good," Williams said. "Steve's an incredible guard in finding guys who're open."

Sato scored 17 points and Chalmers added 12 for Xavier, which failed to recover from 35 percent (20-of-57) shooting.

The Musketeers have lost five straight second-round games since advancing to the regionals in 1990.

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