- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Just call him prime-time Lonny.
Maryland center Lonny Baxter has had a strong career and solid regular seasons, but somehow seems to save his greatest performances for the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior wasn't named first-team All-ACC this season nor last, but has been named most outstanding player of an NCAA regional both seasons.
"I don't know what it is," said Baxter, who had a season-high 29 points in Sunday's victory against Connecticut in the East Region final. "It's just a matter of either going home or playing in the next round. I want to keep going."
Baxter is the only Maryland player to earn regional Most Outstanding Player honors, and hopes to continue his spectacular postseason run Saturday in the Final Four. The Terps will fly to Atlanta this afternoon to prepare for their semifinal against Kansas in the Georgia Dome.
The pounding center abused the Huskies' front line on Sunday after wearing out a thinner Kentucky frontcourt two days earlier. Against UConn, he showed rarely seen dribble-penetration moves to get past taller defenders with surprising quickness. But his biggest improvement this season has been at the foul line. After shooting 60 percent in the regular season, he made 15 of 18 from the charity stripe against Connecticut and connected on 25 of 29 (86 percent) in his last three games.
With the score tied at 79 against the Huskies, Baxter backed down Johnnie Selvie and powered his way for the go-ahead basket with 2:08 left. Baxter expanded the lead to four with two free throws with 1:14 remaining. The center from Silver Spring made 10 of 11 foul shots in the second half.
"Lonny knew he could score on them," Maryland assistant coach Jimmy Patsos said. "He wanted the ball and he made his free throws. That was a huge thing for Lonny. When he does that, how can he not have a good game? Because he is going to get fouled. I hate to say that he plays hard only in the big games because he plays hard every game, but it is interesting that he has saved his best for the most important times."
It has become a rite of March for the soft-spoken big man, who destroyed Georgetown's physical front line with 26 points and 14 rebounds in last season's West Region semifinal, and followed that up with 24 points in the regional championship game win over a much taller Stanford club.
In that game, Baxter displayed several previously unseen moves, including an ability to dribble and drive around Stanford 7-foot center Jason Collins for easy scores.
Against UConn in the tournament this year, Baxter was overpowering, with a soft touch and ability to finish facets of his game that were inconsistent this season.
"This tournament gives you an opportunity to play against teams you haven't played against before," Maryland forward Tahj Holden said. "There's only so much they can scout against you in the short time you have to prepare for us. Film doesn't do Lonny justice on how strong he is or how hard he works. The teams in the ACC, you'll play them two or three times a year. They can scout you and it's a lot easier to play against him. In this tournament, it's hard for teams to actually know. And when they figure him out, he already has 20 points and eight rebounds."
The bulky Baxter also has been effective in recent games because he has stayed out of foul trouble. On Sunday, he got Connecticut center Emeka Okafor in early foul difficulties and the reserves had no answers for his power game.
Baxter's run last season to his first regional MOP did not start smoothly as he managed only two points in a foul-plagued effort against George Mason. Patriots center George Evans scored 27 points and George Mason nearly pulled a first-round upset. Baxter responded with a vengeance in a 19-point, 14-rebound showing against Georgia State before dominating in victories over Georgetown and top-seed Stanford.
"What I like about Lonny is he had to listen to a lot of people telling him he wasn't big enough for his position," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "He had to learn how to shoot a jump shot and do all these things all these gurus seem to feel they have the answer for. … Sometimes people look at Lonny and say 'Lonny really works hard.' Lonny is a great basketball player. The moves he has in the post, very few people that play post in college basketball have those moves."
Williams remembers being frustrated by Baxter, who showed little response when his animated coach spoke to him in practice. The quiet star is extremely respectful and always the first one at practice or on the bus, but he isn't big on conversation.
"Lonny doesn't say much," Williams said. "He just takes all that in. It took me a while to realize he was listening because he doesn't show the same emotion that Juan [Dixon] does."
Baxter would rather just be silent and play. With 7.5 seconds left in the win over Connecticut, he stood in the backcourt as the Terps led by six points with the automatic Dixon at the foul line. As Maryland locked up its second straight Final Four berth, Holden smiled and attempted to congratulate Baxter for a job well done. But a stone-faced Baxter refused to take anything for granted, and wouldn't respond to his teammate.
"For him to go there in this type of game with all the pressure rising on him, I am in his debt to go back to the Final Four," Holden said.
"I was telling him 'Way to play. Way to get us this win.' He was real serious. It was just Lonny being himself on the court. He was concentrating. Lonny is pretty good at concentrating on one thing. When he is concentrating on one thing, he just goes after it."
Then Final Four berths and oustanding player honors just seem to follow.


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