Terps Keep Repeat Hopes Alive, Make Sweet Sixteen For Third Straight Year
Posted March 23, 2003 8:46 a.m. EST
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — No need to beat the buzzer this time. Maryland is off on another run in the NCAA Tournament.
The defending national-champion Terrapins, who got a game-winning three-pointer from Drew Nicholas in the most exciting finish of the first round, shut down David West early and beat the Musketeers 77-64 to reach the round of 16 for the third straight year.
"That shot gave us a lot of confidence coming into this game," Maryland coach Gary Williams said of Nicholas' game-winner. "But this was a totally different game. We were playing great defense and turning it into offense."
Nicholas and Ryan Randle scored 17 points apiece for sixth-seeded Maryland, which will play the winner of Sunday night's Florida-Michigan State game in the South Regional semifinals Friday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Steve Blake, the most experienced player in the tournament, had nine points and nine assists as the Terrapins (21-9) shot 51.7 percent (30-of-58) from the floor.
"We're the only team in the tournament who's the defending champs," Blake said. "We want to prove how good we are and make a name for ourselves."
West, the three-time Atlantic 10 player of the year, finished with 22 points and nine rebounds for No. 3 seed Xavier (26-6). But most of it came way too late.
"If Maryland is a sixth seed in this tournament, man, they're the best one I've seen," Xavier coach Thad Matta said.
Just making the NCAA Tournament was the challenge Williams gave his Terrapins this season after losing four starters - including Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon and Chris Wilcox - from last year's championship squad.
The Terps came in with their lowest seed since a No. 7 in 1996. Now, they're in the round of 16 for the 13th time, and they want much more.
"We felt like the Sweet 16 wasn't a really high expectation," senior Tahj Holden said. "The Final Four isn't a really high expectation. The national championship is our goal."
Why not, when Williams has plenty of experience left? He started four seniors with a combined record of 12-2 in tournament games Sunday.
The Musketeers scored the first five points, but Maryland answered with a 19-4 run and led by as many as 20 points in the first half. Then Xavier almost made it interesting as West, held to two-of-eight shooting in the first half, got going in the second.
He hit the boards hard on the defensive end, started driving to the basket and got Randle, Jamar Smith and Travis Garrison in foul trouble.
West scored nine straight points to trim the lead to 54-44 with 12:21 left.
The Musketeers kept whittling away as West either shot or passed off to teammates who could score. Romain Sato hit the first of two free throws at 6:06 to get Xavier to 60-57.
That was as close as they got.
Nicholas, whose fall-away 3 at the buzzer against North Carolina-Wilmington got the Terps into this game, answered with a three-pointer from the top of key.
"It was huge," Blake said. "They were making a great run at us, putting us on our heels. Drew came up and gave us a lot of confidence with that shot. We just went from there."
That started Maryland on an 11-4 run, and Smith's layup with 3:20 to go made it 71-61.
"We did a tremendous job getting back in the game, but we weren't sharp," Matta said. "Against Maryland, you have to be clicking every possession of the game."
Sato finished with 17 points on 4-of-14 shooting, and Lionel Chalmers had 12.
Xavier was trying for the school's second trip to the regional semifinals and first since 1990. The Musketeers shot themselves out of the game early, hitting 28.6 percent from the floor in the first half (eight-of-28).
"We dug ourselves a grave early," West said. "We let them get out and get going."
With the early lead, Williams was able to rest his starters and liberally substitute from the bench, playing 10 of his 13 players. All but two had at least one basket in the first half.