ATLANTA - Paul Hewitt had no choice but to marvel at Juan Dixon after the senior guard's superb play lifted Maryland to a 92-87 win on Sunday.
"If Juan Dixon is not out there making a 3, he's making a pass," Georgia Tech's basketball coach said.
Or a game-turning steal. With the No. 4 Terrapins clinging to an 85-83 lead before 6,332 fans at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, the Yellow Jackets were poised to tie it or surge ahead when forward Robert Brooks intercepted a pass by Lonny Baxter with less than 40 seconds left.
Yellow Jackets guard Tony Akins pushed the ball upcourt and had Isma'il Muhammad open on the left wing after crossing midcourt. Muhammad saw Dixon running behind Akins, attempting to steal the ball before Georgia Tech stole the game.
"We were yelling at (Akins), but the crowd was loud," Muhammad said.
Dixon pilfered the ball as Akins attempted a crossover dribble, then he found forward Chris Wilcox for a thunderous alley-oop jam at the other end with 27 seconds left. It put Maryland up 87-83 and effectively ended the Yellow Jackets' hopes of avoiding their first 0-4 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference since 1980-81.
"I didn't even know he was behind me," said Akins, who scored a team-high 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting and was 5-of-9 from 3-point range.
The steal capped a stellar afternoon for Dixon. He scored 26 points and corralled 10 rebounds, both game-highs, to help the Terps (13-2, 3-0) win their fifth straight game.
"He's as tough as any guy I've ever coached," said Maryland head coach Gary Williams. "He refuses to lose. You might beat him, but it's not going to be easy."
The same could have been said of the Yellow Jackets (7-10, 0-4) on Sunday, three days after they absorbed a 104-79 pummeling at Duke and eight days after Clemson left here with a 83-76 win.
Maryland hit 11 of its first 14 shots in jumping to a 27-11 lead, so things appeared to be unfolding according to form. But Georgia Tech battled back to keep the Terps from completely running away with it.
The Yellow Jackets managed to cut a 48-35 halftime deficit to 63-59 in the first nine minutes as the Terps sank into a horrid shooting slump. A 16-5 run over 4:31, capped by a runner in the lane by Halston Lane, cut the Terps' lead to 68-67 with 8:02 left.
But the Terps pushed the lead to seven points shortly thereafter and, thanks in part to missing six of eight free throws during one stretch and making 16 of 26 on the game, the Yellow Jackets were never able to pull closer than two.
The Terps made 18 of their last 19 free throws.
"I've been spoiled because my teams have always been great free-throw shooting teams," Hewitt said. "Shooting can be a fickle thing; that's why you can't rely on it."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.