Sweet 16 vs. Kentucky showed why Maryland's 2002 national title was not inevitable

Sweet 16 vs. Kentucky showed why Maryland's 2002 national title was not inevitable

The 2002 Maryland Terrapins made it through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament unscathed after blowout wins of Siena and Wisconsin in “home” games at the then-MCI Arena in Washington.

But 18 years ago, things would get a lot tougher for the Terrapins on their way to the program’s first national championship in men’s basketball. On March 22, 2002, Maryland, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, had to play Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Things were about to get real. 

In hindsight, a championship season seemed inevitable. The Terps had gone 15-1 in the ACC, they were 28-4 entering the Sweet 16 that year. The only losses were a neutral site game against Arizona at Madison Square Garden and games at Duke, at Oklahoma – who would join them at the Final 4 in Atlanta – and to North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament semifinals. 

But just look at that Kentucky roster: Star senior Tayshaun Prince led the way. He was a four-year starter. He had played in an Elite Eight game before and it was his third time in the Sweet 16. 

A year after the Maryland game Prince would become a breakout star in the NBA playoffs for the Detroit Pistons and was on his way to a 14-year NBA career. He was a key player on the Pistons’ 2004 NBA championship team and the group that made it back to the Finals in 2005.  

Meanwhile, a year after losing to Maryland in the Sweet 16, the young Wildcats would return virtually everyone else that next season, including local D.C. area kids Keith Bogans (DeMatha) and Cliff Hawkins (Potomac). Kentucky would rampage through the SEC (16-0) in 2002-03 and was 32-3 when it ran into a buzzsaw named Dwyane Wade in the 2003 Elite Eight. Wade put up a triple-double for Marquette with an absurd 29 points, 11 assists 11 rebounds plus four blocks in a performance that ranks as one of the greatest in NCAA postseason history.

THAT is what it took to knock out the Wildcats in the 2003 tournament. Maryland caught that group a year early in 2002, which was fortunate. If it seems like the Terps cruised to that long-awaited championship, just re-watch the Kentucky Sweet 16 game and see how close a thing it was.

The Terrapins fell behind 5-0 to start the game and 10-4 early. But the game featured six ties and seven lead changes. Maryland rallied to take the lead, but fell behind again 19-14 after a Prince 3-point basket with 11:40 to go in the half. 

This game wasn’t about Maryland’s seniors, though. Juan Dixon had back-to-back 29-point games in the first two rounds in D.C. This time he had 19 and was held in check by Bogans for the most part. 

The two big shots? Drew Nicholas, the unheralded junior guard, drilled a 3-pointer to put the Terps ahead for good 24-21. And he hit another with 9:54 to go that broke a 53-53 tie. Maryland had never led by more than seven points. The lead was still just 66-63 with 4:41 to go. It was 75-70 with 51 seconds left. 

Maryland eventually won 78-68 on free throws down the stretch. But that score didn’t remotely indicate how close a game it really was. And the Terrapins still had to face Caron Butler and UConn in the Elite Eight two days later at Syracuse. If the first two games were home blowouts, Maryland would earn its way to Atlanta for its second straight Final Four appearance. 

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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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