COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A year ago, Byron Mouton sat on the bench as Maryland lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Now he's a big reason why the Terrapins are in position to reach the regional finals for the first time since 1975, when coach Lefty Driesell was stomping his foot in College Park.
After going 9-for-9 from the foul line and scoring 22 points in Maryland's opening 83-80 win over George Mason, Mouton contributed five points Saturday in the Terrapins' rout of Georgia State.
For Mouton, it's all a matter of making up for lost time.
"This is my first NCAA tournament so I'm really looking forward to doing something incredible," he said moments after the brackets were announced on March 11.
After transferring from Tulane prior to the 1999-2000 season, Mouton was required by NCAA rules to sit out the year. He practiced with the Terrapins, but that was the extent of his participation.
"It was real tough, because you play ball for like 13 years and then you realize you're not playing for a whole year," he said. "It was very frustrating."
It was also a learning experience,
"Now I realize that every time I step on the court I've got to do my best and play hard as I can," he said, "because I know basketball won't be there forever."
Mouton led Tulane in scoring as a sophomore in 1998-99, but he felt alone - even while playing near his hometown of Rayne, La.
"There were big problems with my teammates. I had to go somewhere where they'd take me and treat me as a family," he said.
Besides the backing he received from a brother and sister who live in the Washington area, Mouton found comfort among his new teammates in College Park, who embraced his enthusiasm and appreciated the way he pushed them in practice.
"He's got a lot of energy. I think he's given us the spark we needed," center Lonny Baxter said.
Mouton figured to be a role player this season, but was thrust into the starting five in the fifth game of the season. He finished as the Terrapins' fourth-leading scorer, averaging 9.8 points while shooting an impressive 51.5 percent from the field.
Just as important, Mouton added some pep to a team that features silent leaders Baxter and Terence Morris.
"Last year, on the bench he was always jumping up and cheering for the other guys. I thought if he could continue to do that while he was playing it would really help us," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
"His attitude has really helped us, no doubt about it. We've got some guys who are pretty laid back, but Byron is very expressive when he plays," Williams added. "He shows everyone that it's still OK to have fun playing basketball. That's him. It's not an act."
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