Several times yesterday afternoon, Juan Dixon had tried the move without success: Drive the baseline and look for an open shot or a teammate ready to make an easy basket.
With less than 10 seconds to play and the score tied, however, Dixon faked a shot, took one dribble along the right baseline and pulled up for a 12-foot, right-handed jumper. The ball floated over a defender, then splashed through the net with 6.3 seconds left, giving 24th-ranked Maryland a 69-67 victory over No. 16 Illinois in the first round of the BB&T Classic before 13,536 at MCI Center.
In tonight's championship game, Maryland (6-1) will play George Washington, which defeated Seton Hall, 72-63, in the first game [Story, Page D8].
"I had nine turnovers today, and probably five were because I had driven in too far and gotten into the big guys," Dixon said. "I've been working on that shot all summer and all preseason. It's been falling for me right now."
Illinois had one more chance, but Frank Williams's long three-point try caromed off the rim. After the final buzzer sounded, Maryland forward Terence Morris grabbed the loose ball and hurled it into the crowd as his teammates surrounded him to celebrate.
"It wasn't a real consistent game out there, but I thought both teams really made the effort," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "You couldn't bring two teams in here and play harder than those two teams did today. That was like a March game in terms of the intensity."
The Terrapins' biggest lead was three points, equaled when sophomore forward Danny Miller banked in a three-pointer from the right wing, just inside the NBA three-point line, to make it 67-64 with 39 seconds left. But Illinois (2-2) answered when Frank Williams came around a pick and tied the score with an open three-pointer with 27 seconds left.
After Maryland called a timeout, Terrapins freshman point guard Steve Blake (11 assists) dribbled until the clock wound down, then passed to Dixon (18 points, eight rebounds) in the right corner.
"Juan is one of the players on the court for us that wants to shoot the ball in pressure situations," Gary Williams said. "It's nice to see Juan make that shot because he worked so hard this summer. Sometimes sports is tough because you don't get rewarded, but Juan worked hard enough--he earned the right to make that shot."
Maryland stayed close in the first half despite having four starters with two fouls and little production from its reserves. Only four Terrapins scored in the half and Morris, who finished with a game-high 21 points, and Blake had to watch long stretches after committing their second fouls. At halftime, Illinois led 33-32.
In the second half, Maryland fell behind 49-41, as Illinois repeatedly beat the Terrapins' press and scored. Maryland then switched to a 3-2 zone defense that was extremely successful and the Terrapins clawed back into the game. During the final eight minutes, the only time either team led by more than two points was after Miller's three-pointer.
Perhaps the most intense point came when Maryland backup center Mike Mardesich made two free throws--the only points scored by a Maryland reserve--to tie the game at 61 with 3:01 left and a television timeout about to be called.
"That might be the most emotional game I've ever been involved in," Mardesich said. "To win at the buzzer, it was intense. It's a great feeling."