After coming so close to the dream of a lifetime the year before, the Terps finally made it to the pinnacle of the college basketball world on April 1, 2002, defeating the Indiana Hoosiers, 64-52, to win the national championship. The Terps’ victory, in front of 53,406 fans at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta came, curiously enough, in their 2,002nd game of varsity competition.
The road to the final game put to the Terps to the test, with victories over Siena, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Connecticut, and Kansas, then ranked number two in the country, to reach the championship contest.
The semi-final loss to arch-rival Duke in 2001 still stung, and the Terps came out ready to prove their doubters wrong against Indiana. Setting an up-tempo pace, with 28 possessions in the first 5.5 minutes, the Terps took the lead right from the start, when Maryland center Lonny Baxter hit a lay-up at the 18:58 mark. By halftime, they led by six, 31-25. The Hoosiers closed the gap with tenacious play and finally pulled ahead at the 9:52 mark in the second half, when their star, Jared Jeffries, hit a lay-up to put them in front, 44-42. The lead was short-lived, however. Maryland’s top scorer, Juan Dixon, hit a triple eight seconds later to put the Terps in the lead for good after going scoreless for 20 minutes. Indiana pulled to within one, 47-46, with 8:30 left in the game, but the Terps closed the contest with a 17-6 run to put the Hoosiers away .
Dixon finished with 18 points, Baxter with 15, and outstanding sophomore Chris Wilcox with 10. All three were named to the All-Tournament Team, and Dixon was named the Final Four MVP. His incredible senior season also brought him ACC Player of the Year honors and pushed him past Len Bias to become the all-time points leader for the Terps, a record that still stands today. Byron Mouton, Drew Nicholas, Steve Blake, Tahj Holden, and Ryan Randle also contributed valuable minutes and scoring punch to the Terps’ dramatic win.
Head coach Gary Williams became the first alumnus to lead his alma mater to the national championship since Norm Sloane accomplished this feat at NC State in 1974. Following the game, Williams told The Diamondback, “I’ve never done this before, so I am not sure what I am supposed to be like. I’m very happy. It was a thrill, no doubt about it. But I am really tired. I’m just so happy for the players.”
As the final horn sounded, the celebration began among Maryland fans around the country, including those who had watched the game in Cole Field House, where the Terps had gone undefeated in the 2001-2002 regular season. Revelers also filled Fraternity Row and downtown College Park to savor the victory. The university welcomed the team back to Cole the following day with a huge rally, and cheers rang from the rafters over and over again as each of the players and coaches spoke and posed with the championship trophy.
This landmark victory in program history is one that Terrapin fans will never forget!
This is the eighth and final entry in a series of blog posts the University Archives has featured as part of the celebration of the 100th season of Maryland men’s basketball, 2018-2019, with our colleagues in Intercollegiate Athletics. Visit the #Terps100 website for more information about and to participate in the celebration.
Search Terrapin Tales for additional #Terps100 features on landmark days in Maryland men’s basketball history published earlier in the season.