- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

BOISE, Idaho. Forget the Final Four. The Maryland Terrapins almost didn't make it to a second-round matchup against Lefty Driesell and the Georgia State Panthers. They needed a 3-pointer by Steve Blake with 59 seconds left yesterday to eke out an 83-80 victory over George Mason, the second-best team in the Colonial Athletic Association this season (after Richmond).

And so the Maryland Mystery continues. Just how good are the Terps anyway? Back in November, they were thought to be very good, a definite contender for the NCAA title. By mid-February, though, after five losses in six games, they were looking like they might not even get a bid. Then they beat a bunch of ranked teams down the stretch including Duke in Durham and were rewarded with a third seed by the selection committee.

And now this a white-knuckler against the 18-12 Patriots, a club that scored only 35 points in the CAA championship game. Not exactly the way Maryland wanted to start this tournament.

Of course, you have to understand, the Terps were without two of their best players. Terence Morris and Lonny Baxter contributed almost nothing to the cause a combined six points (one field goal!) and 11 rebounds in 48 minutes of action. If they can't do better than that tomorrow, Morris' college career will end right here, in Potato Country.

"The only thing you can expect him to do is come out and play well in the next game," Williams said of his senior forward. "He didn't get it going today. We need Terence."

Maryland tried to put the best face on things. Gary talked about the difficulties of playing a local rival, particularly one that had nearly knocked off the Terps in College Park last season. Juan Dixon brought up Florida's close call against Butler in the first round a year ago after which the Gators went to the Final Four.

"They lost that game almost until Mike Miller hit a tough shot [at the buzzer in overtime]," he said.

True enough. But this is a Maryland team that should know better, that's in the NCAA tournament every year (unlike Florida, which missed out from '96 to '98). And for Morris to go the entire first half yesterday 17 minutes in all without taking a shot … Puzzling.

Compare the efforts of Morris and Baxter to those of George Evans, the 30-year-old forward and Desert Storm veteran who had 27 points and seven rebounds in his George Mason swan song. Evans was the best player on the floor and the rest of his teammates followed their leader. Erik Herring scored 19 points, Jesse Young had 12 on 5-for-6 shooting, 5-foot-8 point guard Tremaine Price fought through muscle cramps in the second half to battle the Terps' press; Jim Larranaga couldn't have asked for much more from his Patriots.

"This was one of the few times you got to see what George [Evans] is capable of doing," said Larranaga. "He rarely gets single coverage [in the CAA]. I think he really had in the back of his mind the [first-round] game against Cincinnati two years ago. He didn't play up to his standards in that game and was determined not to have it happen again."

Williams can only hope Morris and Baxter take the same approach against Georgia State. Because Maryland might not get 22 points apiece again from Dixon and Byron Mouton, as it did yesterday. Driesell's guys are very quick defensively too quick, as it turned out, for Wisconsin, which couldn't hang onto a 28-12 first-half lead and lost 50-49.

"I told y'all we were seeded too low [11th]," the Lefthander crowed afterward. "I told our team this might be the greatest win I've ever had. Of course, I always say stuff like that, but maybe it is because it's at [obscure] Georgia State."

A win over Maryland, however, would top even yesterday's exploits. And it's certainly within the realm of possibility. After all, Georgia State just defeated a team (the Badgers) that defeated the Terps (78-75 in overtime early in the season). Also, the Panthers NCAA tournament virgins, save for former Georgetown Hoya Shernard Long now have a game under their belts, which should only make them tougher.

"I'm sorry I let Lefty into our practice at Georgia State when we were practicing for the ACC tournament," Williams cracked. "I'm sure he picked up a few things." Actually, said Gary, backtracking a bit, "I don't know that I let him in. He just kinda walked in. It's his gym."

Still, he said, "I like our players to know about the history of the program, so it was nice they got to meet Coach Driesell. Lefty never got credit for what he did at our university [because of his hasty departure in the wake of Len Bias' drug-induced death]. Playing against us will help ease that tough time [he has had], I hope."

Just as long, that is, as Lefty doesn't make any more Maryland basketball history tomorrow the kind Terps fans like to forget.

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