ATLANTA Juan Dixon took a moment to consider the possible consequences. But in the end, Maryland’s stellar guard followed his instincts and lobbed a pass from halfcourt with yesterday’s game hanging in the balance.
Dixon had made one of his trademark steals and was starting a fastbreak when he saw teammate Chris Wilcox slashing across the baseline and calling for the ball. The fourth-ranked Terrapins were clinging to a two-point lead with under a minute to play when Dixon floated a 40-foot alley-oop that finished with a soft catch by Wilcox and a powerful slam. Dixon also made four free throws in the final 10 seconds to give Maryland a 92-87 win over upset-minded Georgia Tech.
“It was a tough play,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “It was a great play by Wilcox to finish it. That’s what makes Juan what he is though. He’s got a lot of guts because he knew he would be dead if [it didnt work].”
Dixon totaled 26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals to carry the Terps (13-2, 3-0 ACC) to their first win in three seasons at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Terps, who made 20 of 22 free throws in the second half to hold off the undermanned Yellow Jackets, can now begin focusing on their showdown at No. 2 Duke on Thursday.
Maryland will bring a five-game winning streak to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where it has won the last two seasons.
The Terps prevailed yesterday despite getting outworked by Georgia Tech (7-10, 0-4), which nearly pulled a shocker behind a powerful performance from point guard Tony Akins, who had 24 points 16 in the second half including five 3-pointers to go with his eight assists.
Maryland won despite a poor game from point guard Steve Blake, who had four points, five assists and seven turnovers before he fouled out with 20 seconds left. Terps center Lonny Baxter also was limited with foul trouble, but finished with 23 points, including 11 of 14 free throws. Small forward Byron Mouton had a strong game with 19 points and reserve center Ryan Randle had five rebounds in just nine minutes and a blocked shot in the final two minutes.
But it was Dixon who owned the day, including the last-minute steal from Akins and the feed to Wilcox (12 points). The senior sniper had several deep 3-pointers including one back-breaking 28-footer that came as the shot clock was ticking down and Maryland’s offense stagnating.
“Clarence Moore is an excellent defender,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who’s team lost for the fifth time in six games. “When Dixon hit a couple of those 35-footers, [Moore] looked at me and I just shrugged my shoulders. At the end of the shot clock, he would knock down a shot or he’d make an easy basket. He’s a great, great player.”
Maryland needed Dixon’s heroics after nearly blowing a 16-point first-half lead. Georgia Tech was effective inside against the taller Terps, as Ed Nelson led the frontcourt attack with 18 points. The Terps led 48-35 at the half before Akins heated up and the Yellow Jackets scored the first six points of the second, cutting the margin to 50-41 on a layup by Moore (11 points), prompting a Maryland timeout and a tirade by Williams toward his players.
The Yellow Jackets used a 16-5 run to cut Maryland’s lead to one with 8:01 remaining. Georgia Tech scored the final eight points of the stretch, cutting the Terps’ lead to 68-67 short jumper by Halston Lane.
Maryland built the lead to 85-81 on Baxter’s two free throws with 1:26 left before two foul shots by Lane again cut the margin to two. Baxter made a poor entry pass that turned into a turnover and Georgia Tech was going for the tie or perhaps a go-ahead 3-pointer when Dixon made his decisive steal.
“I don’t think Tony saw me behind him,” Dixon said. “I was just baiting him and waiting for him to put the ball in his left hand. It took forever it seemed like. He took like four or five dribbles with his right hand. I was on his left side and I waited until he put the ball in his left hand and made the steal.”
And then the pass that made his coach cringe as Wilcox slid behind defender Robert Brooks and provided the jam as Maryland escaped an upset.
“I was second-guessing,” said Dixon, who at first ignored Wilcox’s hand signal to launch the alley-oop. “I took like three dribbles before I actually threw it. I saw him pointing the whole time. I was like ‘Should I throw it?’ I made up my mind … I was praying that he caught it and put it in.”
The prayer was answered and Maryland left Atlanta smiling as it begins preparing for Duke.
“It’s probably the biggest game of the year,” said Baxter, starting the inevitable hype. “We just have to go down there and take care of our business.”