- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

The Maryland Terrapins looked completely at home at MCI Center during their shootaround yesterday, concluding with their traditional halfcourt shooting contest. Lonny Baxter started the drill by swishing one from the center circle. Juan Dixon and Byron Mouton soon repeated the feat.
The downtown arena has become like a second home for the Terps, who play two games at MCI each season. Maryland's run toward a second consecutive Final Four begins just 20 minutes from its College Park campus.
"It basically is a home game," said Baxter, a Silver Spring resident. "We're going to have a lot of fans. It feels like a home game, but there's a lot more importance to it."
The Terps are the East Region's top seed and 26-point favorites over 16th-seeded Siena in tonight's first-round game. The winner plays the survivor of No.8 Wisconsin and No.9 St. John's on Sunday. Maryland's players are thrilled to be playing at MCI but see it as just a cozy launching pad to their ultimate destination of the Final Four in Atlanta.
"Last year was a great experience getting to the Final Four, but I think we are a little more mature now," guard Drew Nicholas said. "We're past that point. It's time for us to take that next step. Considering everything that has happened to us, coming out without the national championship would be a failure."
Siena also is delighted to be playing at MCI but for a different reason. The Saints, the only losing team (17-18) in the tournament, finished seventh in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association standings and needed a miraculous run in the conference tournament to earn an NCAA bid. Siena then won the NCAA play-in game Tuesday by beating Alcorn State.
"We've been using the word 'surreal' a lot the last two weeks," first-year coach Rob Lanier said. "Against Maryland, we're either going to see the disparity between the two levels of play and see what we need to work on or we are going to find out we are better than we expected. A lot of things have to happen for us to have a chance to make history."
The history Lanier speaks of is that no 16th seed has upset a top seed in the 18 seasons the NCAA has used a 64-team format. One of the things that has to happen for the Saints to have a chance is point guard Prosper Karangwa maintaining his fine postseason play.
Karangwa is a 6-foot-7 junior who speaks five languages. The African-born Canadian was thrust into the starting lineup just before the MAAC tournament when starter Mark Price was sidelined with an abscessed tooth.
The lanky guard not only ran the Saints to the conference title, he was the key player in the NCAA play-in game. With star Dwayne Archbold limited to 12 points by foul trouble, Karangwa delivered a career-high 31 points and nine assists.
A starring role in an American basketball game seemed unlikely, considering that Karangwa knew nothing of basketball for the first nine years of his life. That's when he lived in the small African country of Burundi, sandwiched among Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania in the center of the continent. Karangwa's family moved to Montreal so the children could get a better education than in their home country.
"I remember seeing snow for the first time," said Karangwa, whose hobbies include playing guitar and writing poetry. "I was staring out the window in the living room for hours. It was mesmerizing."
He originally started playing basketball because all the other guys in the neighborhood played. Karangwa, now 23, didn't watch many games because the only American network available was CBS, which broadcast about a game a week during the regular season. His mother, Antoinette, didn't get to see his spectacular game Tuesday because ESPN is not shown in Canada.
"She understands some of how big basketball is here," said Karangwa, who speaks English, Spanish, French, Burundi and Creole. "I called her after the game, and she was just going crazy."
Mom will get to see tonight's game because it is on CBS, but it doesn't figure to be another Saints' miracle.
Maryland, which earned its first NCAA tournament No.1 seed this week, believes this is its season to win it all as a veteran team that enjoyed the greatest regular season in program history. The Terps start three 23-year-old seniors with All-American Dixon, Baxter and Mouton and have an eight-man rotation that is as talented as any in the country.
"We just have to put all the pieces together," Nicholas said. "We know we have the talent. We have the depth. We have everything. We have great players around us. We have great senior leadership."
After last week's loss to N.C. State in the ACC tournament and a close call in last season's first round against George Mason, Maryland insists it is taking nothing for granted.
"We're pretty hungry," said Dixon, the ACC's player of the year. "We have a goal, and that's to win the national championship, but we have to go through Siena first."


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