- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Maryland guard Drew Nicholas might not get a chance to beat Michigan State at the buzzer in Friday's NCAA South Region semifinal. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has seen enough replays of Nicholas' game-winner over UNC Wilmington to prepare a special defense.

"I said, 'There's no way that can be made,' " Izzo said yesterday. "It looked good the minute it left his hand. … If that [situation] happens to us, I'm going to make sure [Steve] Blake and Nicholas don't have the ball. On money time, there are some guys that are winners."

Nicholas is no longer just Juan Dixon's successor. Beating UNC Wilmington 75-73 on a long 3-pointer as time expired in the NCAA tournament opener on March 21 created Nicholas' own legacy. The Terrapins' leading scorer already had beaten N.C. State on a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left on March 2, but March Madness tends to produce legends.

"They'll talk about it for a long, long time," forward Calvin McCall said. "That was one of the biggest and best shots since [Dukes] Christian Laettner's against Kentucky [to win a 1992 NCAA region final]. That might be the shot that lifts us. You never know how it will affect us."

The momentum certainly continued in Maryland's 77-64 victory over Xavier on Sunday when Nicholas and Blake both hit 3-pointers to thwart the Musketeers' comeback. Blake has hit several timely shots in recent weeks, but Nicholas has been the consistent high scorer with a knack for late heroics.

"The seniors are supposed to step up in those situations," Nicholas said. "You're supposed to want to take those shots. The momentum was in their favor so I caught it and let it go. Ask anybody in here if they dream of counting down the shot clock in their heads. It's just something you do as a kid. It's one of those dreams come true."

Nicholas waited three years behind Dixon for his chance, then was told he wasn't as good. No matter, Nicholas led Maryland scorers (17.7 points) as an All-ACC second-teamer. It wasn't going to be easy to follow Dixon, who led the Terps to the national championship.

Nicholas isn't bitter, though. The two remain close friends. Dixon called Nicholas to congratulate him after the shot was shown as the top play of the week on ESPN.

"I'm never going to catch Juan, [but] I rubbed it in his face [because] he'd never done something like that," Nicholas said. "Any comparison to Juan is great. It was a great feeling to be able to hit that shot and leave behind my own legacy.

"Did I need it? Not necessarily because when I leave here I know what I did for this program helping this team get to the Final Four and winning a championship."

The Terps' resurgence has been aided by center Ryan Randle's 32 points and 21 rebounds in two games. Maryland must remain strong underneath against a physical Michigan State frontcourt. Blake also has to remain the precision passer and alternate backcourt scorer to keep Nicholas from drawing double teams.

But the Terps know Nicholas is their go-to scorer. They have the confidence to give him the last shot.

"Drew believes when the ball leaves his hands it's a good shot," forward Tahj Holden said. "It's nothing new. I've seen him make shots like that at practice. I've seen him make shots from 30 feet out. Once you see it in practice you have confidence in him during games."

Nicholas hasn't seemed impressed that replays of his game-winner have become a late-night staple.

"I'm the same player," he said. "I'm the same person."

The team had a week off from classmates' praises to avoid distractions before leaving tomorrow for San Antonio. Maryland is on spring break.

"We have an advantage of people not being around and telling you how good you are and just focus on getting things done," McCall said.

Besides, Nicholas knows he'll always have something to discuss with classmates come to future reunions. After all, legends tend to lengthen with time.

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