- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

ATLANTA — It was not easy.

It was not pretty.

But it was good enough for coach Gary Williams and the Terps.

They did it.

The Terps beat the Hoosiers 64-52 at the Georgia Dome last night to claim their first ever national championship.

Both teams came down with a case of the nerves in the beginning. Both teams were in a hurry to be somewhere. But both teams were not certain where it was they were in a hurry to be.

The Terps and Hoosiers wanted this one with all their heart. They took a hard breath and then gulped. They sometimes went one way, the ball the other.

The Terps led by six points after 20 minutes, but only because the Hoosiers were Shaq-like at the free throw line.

The Terps tried to boost Steve Blake the day before the game, dismissing those who noted the point guard's recent troubles. Blake, by his own admission, has been shaky in the tournament.

The shakiness did not go away. Blake bounced passes off players from both teams and increased the level of hysteria on the sidelines. Williams could have passed out a couple of times. Never mind. He is that way in November, too, when the Terps are playing the University of Nobody.

Lonny Baxter apparently wanted to hurt the backboard. A couple of his shots almost ended the backboard's career.

Juan Dixon was the steady one, as usual, hitting shots, making steals, sticking his body wherever it could do good.

The Terps went up 23-11 after Chris Wilcox hit a 10-footer with 9:26 left in the first half. The Terps might have been able to knock the air out of the Hoosiers right there.

They didn't, and the Hoosiers steadied themselves as the game progressed.

The Terps appeared unnerved by the prospect of a tight game with the Hoosiers. The Hoosiers were counting on that. They just wanted to stay close and see if the Terps could meet the burden of expectations one last time.

It turned even more serious for the Terps in the second half. The Hoosiers were extending the Terps, planting the seed of doubt in them, hanging close, drawing even, then taking a two-point lead.

It was midway through the second half, and the air seemed awfully thin. The Hoosiers were up by two points, the performance by both parties indelicate. It was the kind of game coveted by the Hoosiers. It was just ugly enough to be theirs.

But then Dixon hit a 3-pointer, the biggest shot of the season, and the Terps started to right their wrongs. Dixon finished with 18 points, Baxter with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

An era passed with the three seniors: Dixon, Baxter and Byron Mouton.

Dixon and Baxter were around all four seasons, Mouton the last two after transferring from Tulane.

The three led the Terps to previously unattainable heights the last two seasons: two appearances in the Final Four and a national championship. Dixon and Baxter check out of College Park with a 110-31 record and an unmatched legacy.

"The best senior group ever at Maryland," Williams said.

Their last game in college was their most important, the one that completed them as well as the coach.

"They earned it, if anybody has," Williams said. "They've given so much. To see them grow, it is special. They deserve to have this, but it doesn't always work out that way."

Dixon leaves as the program's all-time leading scorer and in the company of the late Len Bias, regarded as the best player in school history.

"I saw Len Bias play," Williams said. "I think Juan is as good as any player ever at Maryland."

Williams has signed four recruits to ease the void. Each is rated among the top 50 high school players in the nation, whatever that is worth.

In the case of Dixon and Baxter, the recruiting analysts missed the essence in each player. Neither was deemed a big-time recruit.

They spent four seasons showing the wrongheadedness of that assessment.

Now they go out with their index fingers pointed skyward.

They go out on top.

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