- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

Byron Mouton had turned off the television and gone to sleep Thursday night with Duke well ahead of Virginia. The Maryland small forward soon received a phone call telling him that things had changed dramatically and the title he thought the Terrapins would have to win tomorrow night had arrived early.

Maryland had expected to be playing for the ACC regular-season title outright when Virginia visits Cole Field House in the final college basketball game in the 47-year history of the storied building. But thanks to Virginia's shocking comeback against the second-place Blue Devils, the Terps became solo champions for the first time in 22 seasons while some of them had their eyes closed.

"I did go to sleep," said Mouton of the Virginia game that ended shortly after 11 p.m. "No way Duke was going to lose. Duke was up by 17 with 13, 14 minutes left. [Dukes Carlos] Boozer had like 35 points [actually 33] when I cut the TV off. I said. 'This is over.' Then somebody called me and said, 'Virginia won that game.' I said, 'No way.'"

Maryland ended the Blue Devils' five-year run of regular-season championships and will finish alone atop the standings for the first time since 1980. The second-ranked Terps (24-3, 14-1) earned the top seed in next week's conference tournament and will play at noon Friday against the winner of the play-in game between the Nos.8 and 9 seeds from the night before. The opponent could be Florida State, North Carolina or Clemson.

"It's a good feeling," said Terps coach Gary Williams of his first league championship since guiding American University to the East Coast Conference regular-season crown in 1981. "It was kind of a funny feeling because in my mind, we were going to have to win the game Sunday to win it outright. All of a sudden that changed pretty quick."

It was the latest reason for the Terps to feel good. Maryland's 24-3 record is its best ever this late in the season. The 14 conference wins are a new high. Maryland has won 11 straight heading into the final game, where the Terps will try to finish with a 15-0 record at home.

"We're ACC champs you can't be bummed about that," said Mouton, who was looking forward to playing for the championship. "I wish we could have won it on the court. So much was riding on the game against Virginia at home, like the winning streak, the last game and the chance to win the ACC championship outright. But we still have a chance to go undefeated at home, and it's the last game at Cole Field House."

Williams said there would be a net-cutting ceremony to celebrate the championship if Maryland wins tomorrow. The Terps won the title thanks to their amazing consistency. They are undefeated at home and won seven of eight ACC road games. Maryland hammered then-No. 1 Duke 87-73 two weeks ago at Cole and has all but assured itself a No.1 seed when the NCAA tournament field is announced in eight days.

Maryland's Juan Dixon watched the entire Duke game in his apartment by himself. The Terps' senior shooting guard doesn't feel already owning the title will affect the Terps. He is happy to know the first-place finish is locked up before the season's final day.

"Duke basically handed us the ACC regular-season championship," Dixon said. "It's just funny because Duke won the ACC regular season five years in a row, and for us to break that streak my sophomore year when we broke their [46-game] home winning streak and for us to break this streak, it just says a lot about the team. We've come a long way in the last three or four years."

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