- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

It was tough to tell from the players' body language Sunday night that Maryland had earned the program's first No.1 seed in an NCAA tournament.
There were no smiles or laughs and few signs of joy, just stern looks and tired eyes. The Terrapins were still weary from being upset a day earlier in the ACC tournament semifinals by N.C. State, ending Maryland's 13-game winning streak and sending the ACC regular-season champions into the Big Dance on a clumsy step.
"It was definitely a wakeup call," said Maryland guard Juan Dixon, who shot poorly and finished with 13 points in the 86-82 defeat. "We were on a high. This brings us back down. We have to remember what we did to be successful this year. We didn't play great defense, and that's what cost us the game."
Dixon, who was named ACC Player of the Year and an Associated Press first-team All-American yesterday, wasn't the only one reminded that Maryland's NCAA aspirations could be shattered with another flat performance against another less talented team. The Wolfpack shot 65 percent in the second half and 59 percent overall. The Terps (26-4) failed to convert several late chances to seal the victory.
"We were so mentally tough that we thought we were invincible and that we couldn't lose another game," said forward Byron Mouton, who had only three points in the second half. "It shows if we don't come out for 40 minutes, we can lose. I think it will just make us stronger. I'd rather have it happen then than in another week. We get to play another day. Next week if we lose, we go home."
Maryland's first-round opponent will be Siena, an 81-77 winner over Alcorn State last night in the NCAA play-in game for the East's 16th seed. The Saints (17-18) will meet the Terps on Friday night at MCI Center at approximately 10:10. The winner will face the winner of the game between No.8 Wisconsin and No.9 St. John's on Sunday.
The Terps figure to have few problems Friday, though they got a scare in the first round last season, when they were a No.3 seed before defeating No.14 George Mason 83-80.
"The feeling of a loss is sometimes a great motivator to prepare for what's next," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who feels the Terps are about one of 10 teams that feel they can win the national championship. "You look around the country, and I don't think you can say there is one concrete favorite going into the NCAA tournament. It will be interesting."
Maryland isn't the only elite team to suffer a loss to a weaker foe, just one of the most recent. Top-ranked Duke was beaten in the regular season by Florida State and Virginia, neither of which qualified for the NCAAs. Second-ranked Kansas lost to third-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game Sunday, but that doesn't really qualify as an upset.
Although no No.1 seed has ever lost to a 16th seed, the second round is much trickier. Two top seeds didn't make it out of their subregionals in 2000, when No.8 Wisconsin stunned West top seed Arizona and No.8 North Carolina eliminated South No.1 Stanford.
"We can't be having a mental lapse or be doing things we're not supposed to be doing," said Mouton, one of Maryland's three starting seniors with Lonny Baxter and Dixon. "That's what it is going to take to be mentally tough. I think this team is mature enough to handle that situation."
The Terps took yesterday off and watched the play-in game. Today they return to practice before taking the short bus ride tonight and checking into a hotel as if they were playing out of town.
Maryland will have a closed practice tomorrow and then an open 6 p.m. shootaround at MCI.
One of the things Maryland will work on is defense, particularly help defense after N.C. State routinely worked backdoor cuts off screens for layups and the Terps' defense broke down. The Wolfpack also got plenty of uncontested 3-pointers.
"Our defense was terrible the entire weekend," said Maryland forward Tahj Holden, who believes a repeat Final Four appearance is the only way to validate this season. "It caught up with us. Our intensity really wasn't there."
The Wolfpack's strategy against the Terps likely will be seen again as that game tape makes its way to opponents.
"Sometimes it can be hard to get the defense part of the game up," Williams said. "We couldn't do it against State for any length of time. We have to be a 40-minute defensive team. That's what carried us all year when we didn't shoot well. Our defense creates a lot of fastbreak situations for us and makes it easier to score."
About the only Terp who didn't have a lapse was Steve Blake. The junior point guard had a career-high 21 points, 11 assists and six steals in the loss. Does he feel the Maryland needed a defeat to rekindle its competitive edge?
"I don't want to say we did because I didn't want to lose that game," said Blake, who was openly critical of his team's lack of concentration and execution after the setback. "We put N.C. State behind us because we have a big tournament coming up, but we have to look at that game and correct the mistakes that we made. We have to learn from what we did wrong."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide