NCAA tournament history: Terrapins beat Indiana to win 2002 national championship

NCAA tournament history: Terrapins beat Indiana to win 2002 national championship

The long journey finally ended for Maryland's men's basketball program on April 1, 2002. 

A school that played third fiddle in its own conference to North Carolina and Duke for the better part of 50 years finally won its first NCAA title. It wasn't the prettiest game, a sloppy 64-52 Terrapins win over Indiana at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

They briefly fell behind for the first time with 9:52 to go. But Gary Williams' team wasn't going to be denied. Not this time. 

Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, Byron Mouton, Tahj Holden, Drew Nicholas and crew - not a McDonald's All-American among them - pulled away in the final minutes and Dixon appropriately took the final inbounds pass as the buzzer sounded. One year after blowing a 22-point first-half lead to Duke in a Final Four game, Maryland was crowned champion for the first time. 

"And the kids have done it!" Terrapins play-by-play voice Johnny Holliday famously exclaimed after the final buzzer sounded. 

Williams led his alma mater to the championship. It was a day he didn't believe would happen when the program was hit with three years probation for recruiting and other rules violations during the era of his predecessor Bob Wade. Maryland was banned from the NCAA Tournament for two years. The Terrapins were banned from television completely for the 1990-91 season. Williams wasn't sure he'd be able to rebuild from the rubble. 

But star guard Walt Williams decided to stay with the program. He could have left to play anywhere in the country. Instead, he spent his final two college seasons knowing he wouldn't play in the tournament. That kept the Terrapins competitive during the sanctions period. 

Gary Williams and his staff recruited well. A class led by local players Johnny Rhodes, Excree Hipp and Duane Simpkins got things started in 1992. The addition of Joe Smith and Keith Booth the next year led to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Suddenly, a program that had been left for dead was in the national conversation again. 

But that Final Four berth was elusive. Hall of Fame coach Lefty Driesell had never made it there despite vowing to build "the UCLA of the East" when he arrived at College Park in 1969. Driesell built a powerhouse. But it was never quite good enough. The 1971-72 Terrapins went 27-5, tied for second in the ACC. But only one team went to the NCAA Tournament each year in those days. And Maryland lost one of the greatest games in college basketball history to North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament championship game. They might have been the third-best team in the nation, but were relegated to the NIT, which they won. 

The legacy of those years hung around Maryland, which went to the Elite Eight in 1973 and 1975 and was a Sweet 16 team in 1980, 1984 and 1985. Driesell had top recruiting classes and consistent winning seasons. But when Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose just days after the 1986 NBA Draft, the Maryland program fell apart. Driesell was forced out that October. Wade lasted just three years. 

Williams had to deal with all of that. Duke and North Carolina continued to compete for championships. But Williams stuck with it. After consecutive first round NCAA losses in 1996 and 1997, he was back in the Sweet 16 in 1998 and then 1999, 
when Maryland won a school-record 28 games with junior guard Steve Francis. Dixon was already there. He was a redshirt freshman in 1997-98. He was on the floor during a blowout loss to St. John's in 1999 and again against UCLA in 2000 and once more when the Terrapins lost to Duke in that devastating semifinal game in 2001. It seemed like it would never happen for the program.

But Maryland came right back the next season with a 15-1 record in the ACC and a No. 1 seed in the East Region. After winning a pair of games in Washington against Siena and Wisconsin in the first two rounds and outlasting Kentucky and Connecticut at regionals, the Terrapins made it back to the Final Four. They beat Kansas in what some saw as the true national championship game, falling behind 13-2 before calming down en route to a 97-88 win, and then were in control for much of the final against the Hoosiers. 

In the end, a Dixon 3-pointer gave Maryland the lead right back against Indiana after it fell behind 44-42. The Terrapins never trailed again. The win set off a wild celebration in Atlanta and back home in College Park, where fans had waited so long for their shining moment.   

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Four-star 2021 SF Benny Williams commits to Syracuse over Maryland and Georgetown

Four-star 2021 SF Benny Williams commits to Syracuse over Maryland and Georgetown

The Syracuse men's basketball program picked up its first commit of the 2021 class on Thursday and it came at the expense of the two big local schools. 

Four-star prospect Benny Williams committed to the Orange on Thursday, the small forward announced on Twitter. 247Sports was the first to break the news.

Williams, a consensus top 60 recruit in the 2021 class, chose Syracuse over Maryland, Georgetown and Miami. The small forward is ranked the 47th overall player in the 2021 class by 247Sports and 53rd by ESPN.

Missing on Williams is a crushing blow for the Terps, as the forward would have been the second four-star to commit to Maryland in the 2021 class, joining power forward Julian Reese. The Hoyas have yet to land a commitment for the 2021 recruiting cycle.

"I'm excited to play for coach [Jim] Boeheim in front of the best fans in the country in the greatest arena in college basketball," Williams said in his commitment video.

The 6-foot-8 forward, who plays his high school ball at St. Andrew's Episcopal in Potomac, Md., had taken two unofficial visits to Syracuse prior to committing, according to 247Sports. 

Syracuse's culture and the legacy of the basketball program were two things that specifically stood out to the junior when he visited the school.

"I picked them because of the relationship we built going back two years ago, especially coach Red [Autry] and with coach [Jim] Boeheim," Williams told 247Sports. "I think I can come in and impact the program right away and hopefully lead them to a national championship."

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The 7 best point guards in Maryland basketball history

The 7 best point guards in Maryland basketball history

Maryland basketball is no stranger to success at the point guard position. Throughout the history of the program, numerous primary ball handlers have put up big scoring totals, created highlight plays and led their team to greatness.

But for a program loaded with point guard talent, who are the best of the best? Here's a look at a few of top point guards to ever be a Terp.

Gene Shue (1951-54)

Shue ranks No. 22 on Maryland's all-time scoring list, and while he put up some impressive numbers during his time there, his most impressive work was how he put the program on the map. Before Shue took his spot at UMD, the team had suffered losing season after losing season. That all changed when the point guard arrived.

During his playing career, the Terps achieved their first 20-win season in program history, were nationally ranked and joined the ACC Conference. Thanks in large part to Shue, Maryland basketball began the journey toward national prominence. 

John Lucas (1972-76)

Earning All-American honors once is an impressive feat for most college players, Lucas did it three times during his career at Maryland. The point guard earned second-team honors for the 1973-74 season while playing alongside Tom McMillen and Len Elmore. The latter two would graduate leaving Lucas to shine on his own in the following year.

He did just that, earning First-Team All-American honors for the 1974-75 season. Lucas would do the same in 1975-76 for good measure. During that time he also led Maryland to an ACC regular-season title and an Elite Eight appearance.

Lucas currently ranks No. 6 all-time in scoring at Maryland with 2,015 points. He also ranks No. 4 in scoring average, totaling around 18.3 points per game during his career as a Terp. Lucas wasn't just a scorer, as he also could pass with the best of them as a point guard. His 514 assists in college put him fifth on Maryland's all-time list. Lucas would go on to have a solid NBA career as well after being selected No. 1 overall by the Rockets in the 1976 NBA Draft.

Keith Gatlin (1983-86, 1988)

Gatlin embodied the floor general spirit of a point guard during his time at Maryland. Though surpassed 1,000 points in college, his real brilliance was seen when he distributed the ball to others.

Len Bias and Adrian Branch ranked No. 3 and No. 5 on Maryland's scoring list, and that's largely due to Gatlin's ability to get them the ball and let them take over. Rather than force his own shots, Gatlin would find the open man and rack up assist totals. By the end of his Terrapin career, he had recorded 649 assists, good enough for third all-time in school history.

Steve Blake (1999-2003)

Blake, much like Gatlin, made his mark as a passer at Maryland. His 972 assists during his four-year college career are the highest mark in the history of the program and rank sixth all-time in NCAA basketball history.

Blake's brilliance was seen from day one, as he started from his freshman to senior year at Maryland. His ability to control the flow of the game was instrumental in the Terps 2002 National Championship run.

Greivis Vasquez (2006-10)

The roar at the Xfinity Center when Vasquez tells the crowd he has "Maryland Pride" is all you need to know about how great his collegiate career was. The point guard showed promise in his first two seasons but really stepped up his game during his junior and senior years.

In 2008-09, Vasquez led the Terrapins in almost every category on the stat sheet. The top spots for scoring, assists, rebounds, steals and minutes played all belonged to him. He followed that up with a senior year in which he scored close to 20 points per game and took home the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's best point guard. Vasquez currently ranks second all-time in points at Maryland with 2,171. 

Melo Trimble (2014-17)

Trimble is one of the most recent guards to find success at Maryland. Bursting onto the scene as a freshman, Trimble averaged 16.2 points per game during his first season of college ball. His following two seasons were just as exciting, as Trimble became the go-to weapon for the Terps offense. Before it was all said and done, Trimble surpassed 1,600 points and 400 assists during his three years at Maryland.

Numbers were great, but it was Trimble's heroic moments in the final seconds that he'll always be remembered for. Last-second game-winning shots against Wisconsin and Michigan State showed that there was no moment too big for No. 2. 

Anthony Cowan Jr. (2016-20)

When Trimble left for the pros it became Cowan's time to shine at Maryland, and he did just that. After a solid freshman year, Cowan continued to grow and improve each time out on the court. From his sophomore to senior year Cowan averaged 15.8, 15.6 and 16.3 points, respectively. He now sits seventh all-time in scoring at the University of Maryland

Cowan's biggest strengths, however, were his consistency and clutch. Maryland's newest 'Iron Man,' the point guard started 130 consecutive games during his four years as a Terp. No matter what was going on, everyone could rely on Cowan to be there and ready to make an impact. 

Clutch-wise, Cowan had a knack for stepping up in the big moments, especially during his senior season. A lethal three-point shooter, his performance on the road against Michigan State this past season showed everything there is to know about the Maryland native. With the Terps trailing late, Cowan knocked down two huge threes from way beyond the arc to take the lead and ice the game.

Moments like that helped Cowan bring a Big Ten banner to College Park. 

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