Monday, March 24, 2003

Nicholas delivers in clutch

Xavier notebook: Maryland player sinks key trey

By Dustin Dow and Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Xavier players thought they had a good thing going in the second half Sunday against Maryland.

Down 45-28 at halftime, Xavier came all the way back to trail by three, 60-57, with 6:06 to play. That's when Maryland's Drew Nicholas came up big again.

It was Nicholas who raced the three-quarters of the court on Friday with five seconds left before firing a season-ending shot to UNC Wilmington that gave Maryland a 75-73 win. Sunday, he did it again, but with 5:55 left.

Nicholas answered Xavier's comeback attempt with a 3-pointer from the top of the key that didn't end the game, but did thwart off the tide of momentum Xavier had going.

The Musketeers never got closer than four points the rest of the way and eventually lost 77-64.

"I was able to hit the shot when we needed it," Nicholas said. "I think my shot put a dagger in them."

WEST FINISHED: David West didn't want to stick around to see Maryland celebrate.

When the Terrapins center Tahj Holden stood at the top of the key with the ball as the final seconds of Maryland's victory ticked off, West took off - toward the locker room.

"I didn't feel like I wanted to be out on the court," West said. "That's my personality. I was just trying to get out of Dodge and get back to the locker room."

After the season and career that West has had at Xavier, it's hard to label him as anything other than a winner even though he never took XU past the second round of the NCAAs.

He became Xavier's first-ever First-Team All American and National Player of the Year and won three Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Awards. In the next three months, he will prepare himself for the NBA draft on June 26.

But he's going to miss his college days.

"At this level and below, it's pure," West said. "I was telling the other guys at the hotel that we're playing this game in college because we want to go to the Sweet 16, we want to go to the Elite Eight, the Final Four. In the NBA, you're playing for paychecks. So it's a little different."

WHAT NOW? XU obviously has no more practices this season, which coach Thad Matta said might be the hardest part about Sunday's loss.

"What I feel worst about is that tomorrow, when we get back to Cincinnati, this team doesn't get to practice," Matta said. "I love coaching this team. I love the guys, and when that hits me tomorrow at three o'clock, I'm sure there will be a lot of thoughts racing through my mind."

FAST BREAK ISSUES: Xavier gave up 15 fast-break points to Maryland, but didn't get any in return. The Terrapins' big men were a major factor in Maryland's transition game.

"Our big men can run," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We have the luxury to go 10-deep in most games, and that helps when you're trying to outrun someone."

Maryland beat Xavier largely because of its 9-to-5, workmanlike effort.

As in the nine assists by Steve Blake and five by Drew Nicholas, its senior guard combo.

The Terrapins rank No. 1 nationally in assists per game (18.8), and they had 11 of their 19 assists Sunday in a textbook first half, shooting 52.9 percent and opening a 17-point halftime lead.

"It's just a matter of running our (offense)," Nicholas said. "We make teams play our style of basketball."

Blake, who added nine points, seven rebounds and two steals Sunday, ranks fifth in NCAA history in career assists with 969. He averages 7.1 assists per game this season.

Nicholas, who has 307 career assists, added 17 points and eight rebounds Sunday.

"They're our leaders," Maryland forward/center Travis Garrison said. "Drew and Steve have a ton of experience."

The Terrapins repeatedly burned XU in the first half with back-door passes. It had 28 points in the paint by halftime, finishing with 44.

"We knew they would help (double-team) on our shooters when they got the ball, so that left us with back-door opportunities," Garrison said.

Senior center Ryan Randle was the biggest beneficiary, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the half.

Maryland's 51.7 percent shooting was the second-highest percentage shot against the Musketeers this season.

"We've got good shooters and great passers," Maryland forward/center Jamar Smith said. "With our offense, we can score on anybody when we run it right."

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Nicholas delivers in clutch
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