Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Terps Capture National Title, Defeat Indiana 64-52

Terps Capture National Title, Defeat Indiana 64-52

Commentary by Sanford D. Horn, Maryland Class of 1988

April 2, 2002

My friends, this is not a news article per se, because I cannot possibly be objective, but it does offer information. Sports information, as opposed to my traditional political offerings.

My alma mater, the University of Maryland, in its 2002nd NCAA basketball game in school history played in its first national championship game and defeated the upstart Indiana Hoosiers 64-52 Monday night, April 1 in Atlanta.

This was by no means pretty. Turnovers and overall sloppy play dominated in a game that was played, for the most part, at an Indiana pace – slow and deliberate. Maryland averaged around 85 points per game over its first five games of the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

Seniors Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter led the Terrapins with 18 and 15 points respectively and Maryland came to play in the last six minutes of the game demonstrating why they are the number one team in the college basketball world. Maryland ended its storybook season at 32-4, having lost all four of its games to NCAA Tournament teams – Arizona, Oklahoma, Duke and North Carolina State.

The 2002 senior class, championship not withstanding, had its most successful four-year stretch in school history, led by Baltimore native Dixon and Silver Spring resident Baxter. Byron Mouton, a transfer from Tulane two years ago played a key role throughout the season, and made a game saving play late in the NCAA Final. In gathering in a loose ball under the Indiana basket that looked to be headed out of bounds, Mouton called time-out, which as it turned out, was needless as he was fouled on the play.

Junior guard Steve Blake, whose father drove to all Maryland home games from the family’s home in Florida because of his aversion to flight, played a disappointing game at best making unwise passes and committing turnovers that he did not ordinarily commit. His free throw shooting was suspect at best over the Final Four. An 85 percent shooter from the charity stripe, Blake missed half his free throws over the last two games.

Sophomore Chris Wilcox, rumored to consider taking a shot at the NBA, played flat, proving he is not quite ready for prime time. I like Wilcox and he can be an exciting player with his dunks – even the monster slams that backfire and land at half court.

Red Bank, NJ native Tahj Holden and Long Island, NY Island native Drew Nicholas led the bench play. They will prove to be solid starters next season as the Terps defend their title. Blake will take over as floor leader and if Wilcox does the right thing and remains in College Park, there will be a solid four on the floor for the Terps.

The three senior starters will be missed. I predict Dixon, deservedly the Tournament MVP averaging just over 25 points per game, will be selected late in the first round of this coming June’s NBA draft. Baxter will be selected midway through the second round, but I don’t think he will be an impact player.

I like Dixon. He stayed four years at Maryland, is on target to graduate – just six credits shy and did not let personal adversity send him down the wrong path. It has been widely reported that Dixon’s parents died of AIDS when he was 15, but he had the steady influence of his brother Phil, a Baltimore police officer.

There is a fourth senior that must be mentioned – Earl Badu. I am not mentioning Badu because a local daily newspaper did a story on him last weekend. I am mentioning Badu because I like this guy. He sat quietly on the end of the bench game after game in his warm-ups waiting for the opportunity to play even for one minute. He appeared in 12 games for a total of 26 minutes. Yet Badu, a walk on, did his job – showing up to practice and serving as a body for the starters to pound on. Badu will not only earn his degree this spring, but is headed to law school – that’s what I like – the true student-athlete.

I haven’t mentioned Coach Gary Williams until now, not because I think he is insignificant. Just the opposite. He kept this team together and should be coach of the year. By the way, Mike Davis of Indiana should be coach of the tournament. I have always liked Williams. He brought the basketball program out of the trash heap following the tragic death of Len Bias in June of 1986 and the unfortunate, scandal-ridden tenure of Coach Bob Wade, an otherwise excellent high school coach.

Williams, coaching at his alma mater, led the Terrapins as they rose like a Phoenix out of the ashes into national prominence, eventually landing in its first Final Four last year before being eliminated in the national semi-final by ACC rival Duke. The lesson learned by the defeat by Duke is that the 2001-02 Maryland basketball team learned not to fold like a cheap tent. They squandered a 20-point lead Saturday night, but held on to defeat Kansas in a game I think they would have lost last year. This year’s team was not surprised to find itself back in the Final Four. They played with a greater maturity and that is why they could win on Saturday with a virtually absent Baxter and on Monday despite the sloppy play.

The victory Monday night in Atlanta by Maryland will forever be a bright shining moment in school history. Unfortunately, the story does not end there as the images of wild, drunken students taking to the streets of College Park on both Saturday and Monday nights will also be indelible memories of a victory tarnished. College Park began to look like Newark in 1967. Store windows were broken, looting took place, fires were set, street signs were torn down and a general disregard for law enforcement ensued when the police attempted to restore order and encourage the students off of the streets. Street benches were thrown through the window of a police car and revelers also damaged another police car.

Enough video footage is available to identify the guilty. They should be arrested, charged and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. A message must be delivered. These student miscreants should be expelled from school and made to pay restitution. Any student expelled on scholarship should be made to reimburse the university for the value of the scholarship used.

It’s a shame such a great victory should be marred by such heinous behavior. It gives a bad name to the university as a whole and is an embarrassment to alumni like myself who truly take pride in our alma mater. Congratulations to the University of Maryland and its National Championship winning basketball team.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Sterling, VA.