- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001


BOISE, Idaho Maryland opened the NCAA tournament as if it were playing in front of a firing squad, so it was appropriate that the Terrapins narrowly escaped execution by George Mason thanks to the play of its guards down the stretch.
The Terps trailed with less than 75 seconds to play before surviving with an 83-80 victory over the Patriots in the first round of the West Region of the NCAA tournament before 10,824, who were mainly pulling for the underdog.
And now here comes the Lefthander.
The Terps (22-10) will face 11th-seeded Georgia State in a second-round game tomorrow. The Panthers, led by longtime Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, upset No. 6 Wisconsin 50-49 earlier yesterday.
Maryland beat George Mason despite being outhustled and outworked by a unified team with inferior talent. Maryland was tight from the outset, while George Mason played with confidence and poise. And it's a good thing the Terps' backcourt got it done at BSU Pavilion because their big men apparently missed the flight to Idaho.
Point guard Steve Blake hit a critical 3-pointer that gave Maryland the lead, and Byron Mouton and Juan Dixon made a pair of free throws each in the final minute to preserve it. Maryland fans couldn't exhale until Tremaine Price's desperation 3-pointer from 40 feet missed wide right as time expired.
"I was scared, to be honest with you," said Dixon, whose 22 points included the two free throws that gave the Terps a 3-point lead with five seconds remaining. "It would have been devastating to go out in the first round when we're thinking national championship. Thankfully, we made our free throws, and they saved us."
All told, the Terps made 24 of 27 at the line. Mouton scored 22 points, including all nine of his foul shots.
George Mason center George Evans dominated post play, finishing with 27 points.
"Byron Mouton was the X-factor," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. "We didn't expect him to get to the foul line that much. He got there and kept making them and making them."
Third-seeded Maryland came within one or two plays of suffering its worst postseason upset ever to the 14th-seeded Patriots.
Evans was a constant force inside, making 10 of 15 shots, while Terps big men Terence Morris (four points) and Lonny Baxter (two points) vanished. The Patriots made 55 percent of their field goals, 59 percent in the second half. George Mason forced 19 turnovers while never allowing Maryland to find its rhythm.
"I keep sitting here thinking we won the game," said Larranaga, crouched over in a chair in an empty locker room. "We did everything perfect. We played smart. We executed on offense. We rebounded and played strong defense. We controlled the game. It just doesn't feel like we could have lost."
Mouton grabbed the ball after the buzzer, went over to one end of the court and stuck out his tongue at the George Mason band, which had heckled the Terps the entire frustrating afternoon.
"[George Mason was] looser," said Terps coach Gary Williams, who gave up his new laid-back approach and worked the sideline in his trademark frenzied manner. "They were flying around. We were slow. We got it back as the game went along. We had to find out who could help us be quick."
The Patriots (18-12) had two chances to take the lead in the final minute, plus another to tie on a desperation shot.
Blake made his 3-pointer from just outside the top of the key to give the Terps a 79-77 lead with 59 seconds left. Maryland got the ball back after Blake stripped Jon Larranaga, and Mouton converted two free throws to make it 81-77 with 42 seconds remaining.
George Mason's Erik Herring, a senior guard who played a spectacular final game with 19 points, slashed past Dixon on the left side and made a layup and a subsequent foul shot to cut the lead to one with 30 seconds left.
Morris (0-for-3 shooting in 28 minutes) missed two free throws with 26 seconds left, and the Patriots set up for a go-ahead shot. But an entry pass from Price went through Evans' legs and out of bounds. Dixon hit two foul shots with five seconds left before Price, battling cramps in his right leg, failed to hit his deep buzzer-beater and dropped to the floor in anguish.
Price, a 5-foot-8 point guard, controlled the game's tempo, finished with eight points and six assists and got Blake in foul trouble. Williams came over and shook Price's hand as he lay on the court after the game.
"I have coached for 30 years, and I don't know if I have ever coached a guy who got more out of his physical ability than Tremaine Price," Larranaga said.
The Terps used a nine-point run early in the second half to take their first lead at 51-48. Drew Nicholas passed to Dixon for a three-point play. Maryland closed the run and took its biggest lead at 55-50 on a fastbreak layup by Mouton. However, the Patriots regained the lead at 60-59 on a 3-pointer from the left side by Rob Anderson after Evans kicked it back out when the defense collapsed around the three-time CAA player of the year.
"We kind of underestimated them," said Morris, who felt he didn't take shots because he didn't get good looks. "Anytime you let a team you should beat hang around, that gives them confidence."
The game went back and forth after Anderson's 3. Two free throws by Evans, who was 7-for-10 at the line, gave George Mason a 66-61 advantage. The Terps got the lead back on Mouton's 3-pointer to make it 70-69 with 7:42 left. The Patriots took their final lead at 77-76 with 1:12 left on a follow shot by Evans.
"We have to try to forget this," Maryland forward Tahj Holden said. "We're extremely happy and relieved. We're ecstatic to be playing Saturday."

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