ATLANTA - Plenty of labels have been attached to Gary Williams during his 13-year coaching tenure at Maryland, the most frequent being Best Coach Never to Win a Championship.
Williams ripped that tag off his back Monday night and threw it permanently into his past. He and his team bear a new stamp now - one of eternal greatness - after a 64-52 triumph over Indiana in the NCAA Championship before 53,406 at the Georgia Dome.
The Terrapins began playing a full basketball schedule in 1911 and hadn't won a championship, let alone appeared in a championship game. Until Monday.
"It's special," Williams said. "There have been so many good teams. ... Things have never worked out quite right, and this year they did."
Maryland's Juan Dixon went more than 20 minutes without a field goal - an eternity, by his standards. But once the senior guard found his stroke, he helped turn the game by setting in motion an overwhelming 17-5 run that ended the game.
The Terps (32-4) went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 2:43 and held the Hoosiers to six points in the final 4:20. Dixon scored a game-high 18 points despite the spell and was unanimously named the Final Four's Most Valuable Player.
"I feel like I'm dreaming right now, because I'm part of a national championship team," said Dixon, who took just nine shots and made six. "I'm speechless. I really don't know what to say."
For Indiana (25-12), it marked the end of a stirring NCAA Tournament run that saw them pull off stunning upsets of Duke in the Round of 16 and Oklahoma on Saturday in the semifinals.
Under second-year coach Mike Davis, the Hoosiers captured the nation's fascination by becoming just the second No. 5 seed to advance to the title game.
The loss was their first in six title-game appearances.
"All we can be remembered as is a team that lost to Maryland in the NCAA Championship game," said guard Dane Fife, who had the primary responsibility of guarding Dixon. "We played so well together as a team, and it has brought me so much joy and is something that I will never forget."
The Hoosiers took their first lead of the game, 44-42, when sophomore forward Jared Jeffries scored with 9:53 left. Then Dixon stepped forward.
He hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to snap his scoring drought of 20 minutes, 20 seconds and give Maryland the lead for good. Two possessions later, he buried a pull-up jumper that sparked the decisive run.
"I was just trying to be patient," Dixon said of the 3-pointer. "I tried to let the game just come to me. ... I was trying to do other things because I knew Indiana was keying on me."
Maryland forward Lonny Baxter added 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Terps, who owned a 42-31 rebounding advantage. Indiana, led by 14 points from Kyle Hornsby, didn't help itself by missing five of seven shots from the free-throw line.
The Hoosiers actually shot demonstrably better from 3-point range, 43 percent on a 10-of-23 clip, than they did on freebies. But they shot 5-of-15 from long range in the second half after hitting 5-of-8 before halftime.
"They are a great team, but we just didn't play too well," said Indiana guard Jarrad Odle. "We thought that if we executed everything, we could win by 10 or 15."
The Terps were up by eight early in the second half, but the Hoosiers battled back to tie it thanks mostly to 3-point shooting. Fife hit two bombs within 50 seconds to draw his team within four points, then Kyle Hornsby drilled one from the left wing with 12:17 left to trim the deficit to two points.
On the next possession, a follow shot by Jeffries rolled around the rim and in to tie the game at 40. Indiana grabbed the lead a minute later, but Dixon and the Terps made sure it was a brief one.
"It took a long time," Dixon said, "but we finally got a national title for the state of Maryland."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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