- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Maryland Terrapins left Charlotte Coliseum silently and with solemn faces through a cramped hallway yesterday.
The Terps came to the ACC tournament as regular-season champions and the tournament's No.1 seed with high expectations: winning their first title in 22 seasons. But they returned to College Park prematurely after watching N.C. State's wild celebration in the tournament semifinals.
"It's just very disappointing," Maryland center Lonny Baxter said after the Wolfpack's 86-82 victory. "We came into the tournament the top seed and wanted to do some big things."
The Wolfpack beat second-ranked Maryland by shooting 65 percent in the second half and 59 percent for the game. The Terps had their 13-game winning streak one shy of a program record snapped because they struggled on offense and played flat defense. Anthony Grundy led N.C. State with 24 points on 9-for-12 shooting. N.C. State's deliberate offense often resulted in backdoor layups.
"It looked like we were slow," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who felt his team was like a baseball pitcher without his best stuff. "We didn't react well on the ball. When you play against an offense like that, the key thing is the ball. In other words, when the ball is in the air on the pass, you got to be moving. You can't wait until they catch it because you're dead by then. We knew that going in."
The Terps (26-4) will find out tonight whether they have done enough to earn their first No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Maryland figures to get the seed despite the loss and likely will be placed at MCI Center for a first-round game Friday.
The fourth-seeded Wolfpack (22-9), who were swept by Maryland in the regular season and had lost six straight to the Terps, likely improved their NCAA tournament seeding. They will play second-seeded Duke today in the tournament championship.
Despite their sluggishness, the Terps nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback after trailing by 13 late in the game and being down 80-69 with 2:59 remaining.
Maryland had several chances to tie after Steve Blake (career-high 21 points, 11 assists, six steals) cut the Wolfpack's lead to 85-82 on a running jumper with 39 seconds remaining. But Drew Nicholas and Juan Dixon missed long 3-pointers, and Dixon threw the ball away on Maryland's final chance to tie with less than 15 seconds to play.
Baxter committed a foul going for the loose ball, and Grundy made a free throw to assure the victory.
Dixon, mainly guarded by Grundy, was held to 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting. The N.C. State guard also had eight rebounds and four assists. Wolfpack forward Marcus Melvin (19 points) keyed N.C. State in the first half with three 3-pointers. N.C. State made 11 of 27 (40 percent) 3s.
Meanwhile, Maryland struggled to score on the inside. Power forward Chris Wilcox finished with 15 points but made just six of 14 shots. Maryland's offense never found a rhythm against the Wolfpack's zone defense.
"We had to settle down and get into our positions on offense and run our plays correctly," said Blake, who made seven of nine shots and had five rebounds to complete a strong tournament showing. "Sometimes guys were in the wrong spots and weren't running cuts hard. We didn't execute some of the game."
Maryland trailed by six points early in the second half before going on an 11-4 run to take its only lead after intermission on a 3-pointer by Blake with 13:48 left.
With the teams tied 54-54, N.C. State scored six straight, capped by a 3-pointer by Archie Miller. The Terps cut the lead to 67-64 on an athletic layup by Dixon, but then the Wolfpack reeled off 10 straight. Miller had the final five points on a 3-pointer and two free throws.
But with N.C. State's lead at 11 points, Maryland scored seven unanswered points and cut the deficit to five with 2:20 left when a steal by Drew Nicholas led to his own layup.
Following a free throw by N.C. State's Ilian Evtimov, Blake was fouled on a 3-pointer and converted all three free throws to cut the deficit to three. The Wolfpack's Julius Hodge hit a desperation 3-pointer from the right wing just before the shot clock expired to make it 84-78 with 1:17 left.
A layup by Baxter (15 points) cut it to two. Melvin's free throw made it 85-80 before Blake cut it to three.
N.C. State left the door open for Maryland by missing eight of its final 12 free throws. But the Terps couldn't take advantage as Nicholas missed a 3 and Dixon's 3 was well short, catching the rim.
"I remember this feeling," Williams said of the Terps' first loss since Jan.17, a span of 53 days. "It's funny. It didn't take long to remember it. That's why I'm proud of the team. We took everybody's shot during the season. We did what we had to do to win the regular-season championship. We had to come down here and play really well. It looked like we weren't as sharp as we were last week. Mentally, it's been a long haul, and so hopefully we can get that mental edge back by Thursday or Friday."


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