By Zach Phillips
Cole Field House has been under construction for several months now, and it has been 15 years since the building was the home court for Maryland basketball.
It has also been 15 years since the Terps made their historic run to win the men’s NCAA tournament in 2002.
That year, the University of Maryland was still part of the Atlantic Coast Conference, regularly playing rivals UNC and Duke. Cole Field House has the distinction of being the building with the most upsets for top-ranked teams. A 2002 game against Duke was the last of such events.
Maryland’s head coach at the time was Gary Williams, who had been coaching at College Park since 1989. In 2002, he brought the Terps to their ninth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. In the season prior, Williams and the Terps had reached the Final Four, but lost to Duke, 95-84.
Maryland entered the tournament with the No. 1 seed in the eastern regional part of the bracket. Their first game was against No. 16 Siena College, a school from New York making its third appearance ever and second in three years. The Terps won the game, 85-70.
In the next round, the Terps faced future Big Ten counterpart Wisconsin, who had the No. 8 seed. Maryland won easily, 87-57.
The Sweet 16 pitted Maryland against four seed Kentucky. Maryland won, 78-68, to catapult itself into the Elite Eight.
In the regional final, Maryland faced Connecticut, who was the second seed. This meant that each team the Terps faced was the highest-possible seed; they drew no advantages from upsets. The Connecticut team featured future NBA players Emeka Okafor, Caron Butler and Ben Gordon. The Huskies would win the title in 2004, but Maryland put them away, 90-82, to earn its second straight Final Four appearance.
Maryland faced the only other number one seed that had made it to the Final Four that season: Kansas. The Jayhawks’ 2002 squad was coached by Roy Williams, who recently coached UNC to two consecutive Final Four and championship appearances, winning it all this past year. The team featured future NBA players Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden and Nick Collison. Maryland won 97-88 in Georgia, earning its first appearance in the tournament’s final game.
Indiana defeated Oklahoma to advance to the final, making it the second future conference foe for the Terps to face in the tournament. The final game was played on April 1 in the Georgia Dome. The Terps controlled the game mostly from start to finish, and the end was a low scoring victory, 64-52. Juan Dixon, a senior at the time, was voted the game’s most outstanding player.
In the 15 years since the 2002 championship, the Terps have made the NCAA tournament eight times. They have never come close to making it as far as they did that season, never advancing to the Final Four again.
After their championship season, the Terps’ new home became what is now the Xfinity Center. In 2011, Gary Williams left and was replaced by Mark Turgeon, who has brought the team to three consecutive tournament appearances.
Last year Maryland lost to 11th seeded Xavier in the first round.
Steve Blake and Juan Dixon, the biggest name players from the 2002 squad, both had mediocre professional careers. Blake bounced around the league until the end of the 2015 season. Dixon played nine seasons for four different teams, never really making a name for himself. The two were teammates again in Washington and Portland.
Fifteen years later, however, their accomplishments should still shine.