- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

ATLANTA Cheer the Turtle.
Behind clutch performances from Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, the University of Maryland men's basketball team captured its first national title last night, defeating Indiana University 64-52 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship game at the Georgia Dome.
Dixon scored a game-high 18 points and Baxter added 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Terrapins, who delivered a fitting and emphatic coda to the greatest season in school history.
After the final buzzer, senior classmates Dixon and Baxter collapsed to the floor in a triumphant embrace as chanting Maryland fans serenaded Terps coach Gary Williams.
"I am so proud of everyone on this team," Dixon said. "Lonny and me beat the odds and led our team to a title. I can't put into words how excited I am."
In College Park, crowds overflowed at the off-campus spots, numbering in the hundreds around any bar with a television.
About 10:20 p.m., police closed off Route 1 to traffic.
In the closing minutes of the game, more than 200 officers outfitted with helmets, batons, shields and green gas masks began taking position behind a metal barricade erected at the intersection of Knox Road and Route 1. Police helicopters could be seen overhead.
Within minutes of the Terps' victory, thousands of people in nearby bars poured out into the streets. Rowdy fans tore down the barricade and challenged the police, who shot tear gas as they retreated from their position.
Homemade fireworks were set off, and fans hurled bottles. At least one student was injured when he was hit in the head by a bottle.
Soon after, the bonfires began: One along Fraternity Row measured roughly 20 feet in diameter and was growing as people threw clothes, trash and even a mattress into the flames. Crowds started a second bonfire not far from the first. Police stood by, and a large armored vehicle was posted nearby with its lights on.
After the second bonfire was set, two columns of police officers, several mounted police officers and a firetruck moved in and took control of the situation.
It was not clear whether any arrests had been made last night.
Despite a rich and storied basketball tradition, Maryland entered the evening having made more NCAA tournament appearances, 19, than any other school that had not won a national championship.
By defeating Indiana, a five-time title winner, the Terps erased that dubious distinction as well as the lingering memory of a heartbreaking loss to archrival Duke in last year's national semifinals, when they blew a 22-point lead.
Driven by that defeat and bolstered by four returning starters, Maryland enjoyed an unprecented season. At 32-4, the Terps set a program record for victories, captured their first outright Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1980 and advanced to the school's first title game.
Nevertheless, Maryland would have considered the year a wash without a victory over No. 5 seed Indiana, a surprise finalist and decided underdog.
"This is the greatest feeling," Maryland forward Tahj Holden said. "This is exactly what we've worked hard all year for."
The Terps got off to a quick start in a ragged, turnover-plagued first half as Dixon and Baxter combined for 19 of Maryland's first 21 points and the Terps built a double-digit lead.
However, a last-second flip shot from Indiana guard Tom Coverdale cut Maryland's halftime advantage to 31-25, and the Hoosiers took a 44-42 lead with just under 10 minutes to play.
Dixon, Maryland's all-time leading scorer, immediately hit a 3-pointer to put the Terps back on top, teaming with Baxter to score the Terps' next nine points.
After senior forward Byron Mouton hit a pair of free throws to give Maryland a 62-49 lead with less than two minutes remaining, he pumped his fist at the Terps' bench, sensing victory.
Maryland came into the contest as a favorite largely thanks to Mr. Williams, a Terps alumnus who has restored the program to national prominence following a dark period that began with the death of superstar forward Len Bias in 1986 and continued through three seasons of NCAA probation in the early 1990s.
When Mr. Williams took over the program in the spring of 1989, Maryland was coming off a desultory 9-20 campaign a far cry from the glory days of the mid-1970s, when the Lefty Driesell-coached club featured stars like Len Elmore, John Lucas and Tom McMillen.
"There were a lot of people involved in this," Williams said. "It took all our administration, our staff, and everyone involved in the program to make this happen."
The seeds of Maryland's run to the title were planted in 1997 and 1998, when a pair of unheralded recruits, Dixon and Baxter, respectively, arrived on campus.
Dixon, a spindly Baltimore native, was considered too small to compete in the ACC; Baxter, a burly D.C. resident, was considered too heavy.
This season, they gave the Terps perhaps the best inside-outside punch in the college game, with the rugged Baxter patrolling the paint and the sweet-shooting Dixon wreaking havoc on the perimeter.
Baxter was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament's East Region, while Dixon, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, earned All-America and ACC player of the year honors and was the leading scorer in the tournament.
Both players had their jerseys raised to the rafters of Cole Field House before a late-season victory over Wake Forest.
"Not many coaches get a chance to coach great seniors like this," Mr. Williams said. "It was a thrill for me to watch these guys work this hard and get their reward."
For Indiana, the loss was a disappointing finish to a bracket-busting romp through the tournament.
Two seasons removed from the ugly and controversial dismissal of former coach Bob Knight, the lightly regarded Hoosiers entered the postseason with 11 losses, but pulled a pair of stunning upsets by defeating top-seeded Duke in the round of 16 and No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the national semifinals.
In doing so, Indiana and current coach Mike Davis evoked comparisons to the Gene Hackman film "Hoosiers," in which an underdog Indiana high school team wins the state championship.
"Who would have thought Indiana would play for a national championship?" Mr. Davis said. "I thought we fought hard. The future's bright."
That said, the night and history belonged to the Terps.


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