March Madness exists only in memory for this year, but the Maryland Terrapins are still celebrating an anniversary today.
It was 18 years ago, on March 15, 2002, that the Terrapins men's basketball team began its run to the program's first NCAA championship. The No. 1 seed in the East Region, ACC regular-season champions at 15-1 with a 26-4 overall record, Maryland got to open its title push as close to College Park as possible with a first-round game at then-MCI Arena - now Capital One Arena - in downtown Washington, D.C.
The Terrapins hosted No. 16 seed Siena and cruised to an 85-70 victory - a game they qucikly led by double digits and were never threatened in the second half. The road got much tougher from there. Maryland had to beat five former tournament champions - Wisconsin, Kentucky, Connecticut, Kansas and Indiana - to earn its first title.
But it all started in their home-away-from-home, where Maryland had played two games per year each of the previous five seasons and was comfortable in front of a largely-partisan sellout crowd. Juan Dixon scored 29 points, which was two shy of the program record in an NCAA tournament game shared by Len Bias and Joe Smith.
Local hoops fans also got to watch No. 7-seed Wisconsin outlast No. 10 St. John's, No. 2 Connecticut beat No. 15 Hampton and No. 7 North Carolina State win over No. 10 Michigan State on a March Madness Friday. They came back two days later to watch the Terrapins destroy Wisconsin 87-57. Dixon again scored 29 points. That was the day he passed Bias as Maryland's all-time leading scorer.
The other second-round game was ironic. N.C. State had just beaten the Terrapins the week before in a major ACC Tournament semifinals upset. And this was the first year the NCAA instituted the pod system to keep teams closer to home. So Maryland also got a look at a Connecticut team it would not play until the East Regional final in the Elite Eight at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., a 90-82 classic that came down to the final minute.
The Terps would go on to their second consecutive Final Four and outlasted Indiana in the title game 64-52 in Atlanta. But that memorable March which Maryland fans had been waiting so long for all began a few miles from campus 18 years ago today.
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