Maryland’s men’s basketball team will never know how it would have fared in the 2020 NCAA Tournament.
The coronavirus pandemic will always leave this year’s group wondering what might have been. But the 2002 Terrapins don’t have to worry about that. Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake and that Maryland team won the national title and hung a banner that still hangs at Xfinity Center.
So maybe it’s good to look back on that squad, which also featured Chris Wilcox and Byron Mouton and Drew Nicholas and Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle, among others. Not a McDonald’s All-American among them. But they won the tournament anyway.
On this date 18 years ago, those Terrapins played their final “home” game of the season. It was at MCI Arena in downtown Washington, not at Cole Field House, which they had shut down earlier in the month with a resounding, emotional 112-92 win over Virginia. MCI wasn’t the same, but on March 17, 2002 Maryland played Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at its home-away-from-home, where it had played at least two games a year each of the previous five seasons.
It was a memorable Sunday afternoon as the Terrapins’ march to a championship continued. After beating No. 16 Siena in the first round 85-70, No. 1 seed Maryland (27-4), the ACC regular-season champion, faced No. 8 seed Wisconsin. The Badgers weren’t especially good at 18-13 overall entering the game, but they did finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Big 10 with Illinois and the Indiana team the Terrapins would see later on in the tournament.
It figured to be a close game even with Maryland’s home-court advantage. The two teams had met the year before early in the 2000-01 season at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. It was a true classic. Wisconsin held on for a 78-75 overtime win. Blake hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of regulation to tie it. Instead, the tournament game was a blood bath, possibly the best game the Terrapins played the entire run. Dixon scored 29 points for the second game in a row and in the process passed Len Bias as the program’s all-time leading scorer. The final was 87-57. It was a sign that this Terrapins team had completely put the crushing 2001 Final Four loss to Duke behind it. It appeared immune to pressure.
Maryland had a half time lead of 38-30. But it outscored the Badgers 49-27 in the second half. It was on to the Sweet 16 and the East Regional semifinals against No. 4 seed Kentucky and a rousing send-off from the local fans.
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