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Despite Recent Struggles, Terps Have A Rich History Of March Magic

March 15, 2016
There hasn't been a whole lot to cheer about in recent weeks for the fiercely loyal fans of the Maryland men's basketball team, who saw their Terps lose four of six to close out the regular season before falling to Michigan State, 64-61, in the Big Ten tournament semifinals March 12. 

Come to think of it, pleasant March memories have been few and far between for too long in Terrapin Nation.

Last season's NCAA tournament appearance was the first for Maryland since 2010 and the first for head coach Mark Turgeon since arriving in College Park in 2011. That campaign, which ended in a devastating fashion against West Virginia, marked the fifth straight time the Terps have lost in the second round going back to 2004. They were a four seed on four of those occasions, and they enter the 2016 NCAA tournament as a five seed.

Of course, that was all preceded by the golden era of Maryland basketball, a time defined by big shots and Final Fours. Former head coach Gary Williams led the Terps to 11 straight tourney appearances from 1994-2004, highlighted by the run to the 2002 national championship, the lone title in program history. Maryland was a second weekend staple in those days, advancing to the Sweet 16 in five of six years between 1998 and 2003. 

It is that type of dominant era that the Terrapin faithful were undoubtedly hoping had returned earlier this season when they saw their team near the top of the polls for the first time in a decade. It is those fond memories that they're hoping to relive. So, for a moment, forget that the Terps limped to the finish line this season, and let's revisit that former time in hopes they can do it again.

Here are Maryland's top five all-time performers in NCAA tournament play:

Juan Dixon, 2002 

Dixon, currently a Terps assistant under Turgeon, is the definition of Maryland royalty, thanks to his legendary performance in the 2002 NCAAs. He led the Terps to the only national title in program history, scoring 155 points (25.8 per game) in the six wins on 52-of-96 shooting. He hit 10 shots during four different tournament games and made a total of 22 3-pointers en route to the hardware as the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. 

Lonny Baxter, 2001 

While Dixon ultimately shined the brightest, it was actually Baxter that took home the regional MVP award during each of Maryland's two trips to the Final Four. Baxter keyed Maryland's first voyage to the national semifinals in 2001, when he piled up 69 points and 34 rebounds during wins against Georgia State, Georgetown and Stanford. He wasn't too shabby a year later, either, averaging 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game during Maryland's title run.

Drew Nicholas, 2003 

You knew this one was coming. The sixth-seeded Terps were on the ropes during the first round against UNC Wilmington only a year after winning it all. Down a point with five seconds left, Maryland's Nicholas took an inbounds pass and dribbled it the length of the court before swishing an off-balance 3-pointer as time expired. Nicholas, then a senior, sprinted directly to the locker room and into the hearts of Maryland fans everywhere. He scored 57 points in three games before the Terps lost in the Sweet 16.  

Joe Smith, 1995 

It is truly a shame Smith's brilliance was on display for only six NCAA tournament games. His line in Maryland's 82-68 second-round victory against Texas in 1995 looks like it came straight out of a video game. The 6-foot-10 center scored 31 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go with seven blocks, four steals and -- wait for it -- 21 rebounds. His career scoring average of 20.8 points per game in the tournament is second in program history and a big reason he'd eventually become the No. 1 overall pick during the 1995 NBA Draft.

Steve Blake, 2000-03 

With all due respect to the late Len Bias, no list of Maryland March performers is complete without Blake. The point guard's 97 career assists in the NCAAs is by far the most in Maryland history, and he trails only Dixon in all-time steals (27). His numbers are respectable but not flashy -- he averaged 7.6 points and 6.1 assists during 16 career tournament games. But as usual, most of Blake's contributions won't show up in a box score, like his leadership. Maybe that is why he's the only player on this list still playing in the NBA.