- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

ST. PAUL, Minn. The Maryland basketball team left its Twin Cities hotel yesterday morning with long faces and bleary eyes. The Terrapins completed their season a night earlier exactly where they wanted in the Final Four in Minneapolis' Metrodome. It just didn't conclude how they wanted.
"Right now, it's tough," said forward Tahj Holden, one of numerous Terps who couldn't sleep following the agony of losing to Duke in the national semifinal game Saturday. "We got to the Final Four, but we didn't win the national championship. So it's sad."
The Terps walked through the lobby lugging their bags as a few dozen Maryland supporters applauded and thanked them for a great season before the team boarded a bus for the airport. Coach Gary Williams visited with his daughter, Kristin, and held his 1-year-old grandson, David. The group was wrapping up its historic journey to the program's first Final Four.
And while reaching college basketball's hallowed ground will always be a cherished memory, the manner of exit will be as chilling as Minnesota's winter-like air. The Terps blew a 22-point first-half lead, getting outscored 78-45 by the Blue Devils. Duke won the game 95-84 and moved on to face Arizona in tonight's championship game.
"We relaxed a little bit after we got the lead," said Maryland guard Juan Dixon, who was held to three points in the second half. "You can't do that in the Final Four. We should have put them away when we had the chance. We didn't have that killer instinct."
Maryland finished the season with a 25-11 record, having won 10 of its last 12, with both losses to Duke. The Terps return four starters next season, losing only power forward Terence Morris, and eight players in its 10-man rotation, with Mike Mardesich graduating. Maryland should be a preseason top-10 or even top-five team and a favorite to return to the Final Four.
But this groundbreaking season and a promising future can't soften the piercing blow of Saturday night, when Jason Williams (23 points) and Shane Battier (25 points) dominated the second half with a fair amount of help from their friends in striped shirts. Maryland committed 21 turnovers, while forcing just seven. The Terps offense routinely broke down in the second half, and Jason Williams made them pay with his unstoppable penetration and assassin-mentality scoring.
Foul trouble limited Morris (10 points) to 20 minutes in his final college game, thanks partly to officials with quick whistles. However, he left fighting with a brief scoring surge late in the second half and gave his team its last lead at 77-76 on a free throw with just under five minutes remaining. Center Lonny Baxter and Holden were also harnessed by the referees.
One crucial questionable call came when Baxter was assessed his fifth with 2:48 remaining and Duke ahead 84-79. Baxter fouled out on an offensive foul away from the ball that initially looked like a defensive foul on imposing center Carlos Boozer. But instead of the Terps getting a chance to cut into the lead, Boozer (19 points, eight rebounds) shot free throws.
"You ask officials to call certain things, and that's all you can do," Gary Williams said. "If it's not called, it's not called. You have to adjust to it. We didn't do a good job adjusting."
The Terps didn't do a good job adjusting to the touch calls or Duke's stiffening defense. They decomposed in the second half and took bad shots while attempting to stay in the game. After two free throws by Maryland's Drew Nicholas cut the lead to 80-79, the Terps committed turnovers on their next two possessions, fell behind by six and never threatened again.
"Once we got the lead, we really got away from the things we needed to do," said Mardesich, a senior who had six points and five rebounds in 12 minutes to close his career. "You have to stay solid throughout the game. You can't let your offense break down and go one-on-one and abandon what got you the lead."
Mardesich, like his teammates, will ultimately remember this as a special year that landed the Terps in their first Final Four. The amount of adversity they overcame to get here will make them cherish their unprecedented success even more.
"At some time, I'm going to be proud of this," Mardesich said. "We did something no Maryland team has ever done."
However, that was little consolation yesterday as the team ventured out onto a cold, windy St. Paul street and boarded the bus under overcast skies, returning home earlier than it expected. The Terps' venture into the greatest moment in program history was temporarily tempered by a devastating defeat.
"I wanted to be the first team to win it all not the first team to go to the Final Four," Maryland's Byron Mouton said. "I don't listen to all that other stuff like being the first team to get past the Sweet 16 [in Williams' 23-year coaching career] or any of that. My whole thing is winning it all."
While that goal is shelved until next season, the Terps' hard feelings should soon soften as they begin to appreciate the incredible journey they made in a turbulent season.
"After a day or two, that may sink in," Morris said. "We know what we've accomplished. We're going to be upset for a while because we felt we could beat this team. It will take some time to recover."


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