- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

Lonny Baxter doesn't talk much and usually hides his emotions deep inside his burly frame. But the Maryland senior lights up when talking about Cole Field House. Like Cole, the undersized center is more about substance than flash. The Silver Spring native has been a lifelong fan of the raucous barn-like arena and knows it will be tough to say goodbye to his comfortable basketball home.
"I love Cole Field House personally," said Baxter, who will play his final game in College Park tonight against Virginia in the final game ever at Cole. "I'm glad we didn't move a year early."
After 47 years, the storied arena that housed two Final Fours and even had Elvis in the building will close its doors as a big-time venue. The Maryland basketball team moves to state-of-the-art Comcast Center next season.
The second-ranked Terps (24-3, 14-1 ACC), who already have won their first outright ACC regular-season title in 22 seasons, will be looking to close their schedule on a winning note as Virginia (18-9, 7-8) comes to town. Maryland is enjoying one of its greatest seasons ever and will attempt to achieve a 15-0 record at home as a proper sendoff to Cole. The last time Maryland went undefeated at home was in 1994-95, when Joe Smith led the Terps to a 16-0 record.
"I have a lot of memories in this gym," said Maryland guard Juan Dixon, a fellow senior who along with Baxter are two of the greatest players ever to call Cole home. "It's going to be sad, but hopefully we can finish with a win."
Byron Mouton and walk-on Earl Badu also will experience their final games in College Park tonight.
Baxter and Dixon, who is from Baltimore, are two of the countless thousands who have an emotional attachment to an arena that will play host to 14,500 overheated, cramped fans one last time tonight. Players plan to soak up the boundless energy, beginning with the deafening roar that always erupts when the Terps come out of the tunnel leading onto the floor.
"It's awesome," said point guard Steve Blake, a junior who will be on the first team in Comcast. "It's full of energy. It just feels like everyone is behind you and is ready to start screaming and yelling before the game starts. It's just a lot of intensity."
Meanwhile, Virginia's Cavaliers desperately need a win to improve their NCAA chances after moving back into contention by upsetting No.3 Duke 87-84 on Thursday a win that assured Maryland of the ACC title.
Virginia seemingly had blown its NCAA hopes by losing seven of nine. The Blue Devils led by 15 late in the game, but the Cavaliers scored 17 straight points to fashion a dramatic upset that sent fans flooding the University Hall court in celebration.
"Hopefully, we realize this is not the end," said Virginia guard Roger Mason after scoring a team-high 22 points. "Beating Duke is not our Super Bowl. It's just a start."
The Cavaliers were helped by swingman Adam Hall, who played only five minutes over an 11-game span because of a right foot injury. Hall had 21 points in 37 minutes against Duke. The 6-foot-5 senior had nine points in the 17-0 stretch, with a 3-pointer, a powerful dunk and all four his free throw attempts.
"Our team's a different team when Adam Hall's in there," said Virginia coach Pete Gillen, whose squad had a 10-2 record before Hall was sidelined. Hall played five minutes in Maryland's win at Virginia, when the Cavaliers blew a nine-point lead with just more than three minutes to play as Drew Nicholas nailed two deep 3-pointers to propel the Terps.
"They're more athletic for sure with Adam Hall," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "He gives them a great offensive rebounder to complement [power forward Chris] Williams."
Even with Hall out, it's hard to comprehend Virginia's free fall. The Cavaliers were ranked No.4 in the country in the Dec.31 poll but dropped out of the rankings last week. The Cavaliers lost three straight before shocking Duke, including losing at last-place Florida State and blowing a six-point lead in the final minute against Georgia Tech at home.
"Don't try to lump them with other teams," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said about the confusing Cavaliers. "They're not lumpable."
Maryland has matched a program record with its current 11-game ACC winning streak and is in line for its first No.1 seed when the NCAA tournament field is announced next Sunday. The Terps will be the top seed in the ACC tournament in Charlotte, N.C., where they will open play Friday.
The Terps plan to end Cole's era in grand style. If they win, Maryland will cut down the nets in celebration of the regular-season title. If that happens, Baxter won't be the only one fighting back the tears. The center remembers fulfilling a childhood dream when he led the District's Anacostia High School to the 1997 City Championship in Cole. He had 35 points and 12 rebounds in that win over Gonzaga, and now will play his final game on campus.
"I do love Cole Field House," he said. "It's a great place to play. It will be missed. I know that."

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