Lonny Baxter splits the UConn defense to get off a shot.

Man in the middle: Tournament MVP Lonny Baxter splits UConn defenders to get off a shot. (Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron / December 3, 2001)

WASHINGTON - The Maryland Terrapins had trouble shooting and handling the ball for glaring stretches last night, but still had too many weapons for the Connecticut Huskies to handle.

Sparked by its frontcourt of senior center Lonny Baxter and junior forward Tahj Holden, No. 3 Maryland overcame the less experienced and unranked Huskies with an impressive second half and won its second straight BB&T Classic, 77-65, before 14,813 at MCI Center.

The victory, Maryland's sixth straight, gave the Terps (6-1) their fourth BB&T crown in the tournament's seven-year history and their third championship in the past four seasons. Maryland also became the first back-to-back winner of the BB&T.

And the Terps needed their big men to put down Connecticut (3-1), which gamely battled its own ball-handling and shooting misery. The Huskies fell behind early by a 21-7 count, used their defense and transition game to cut that margin to 36-34 at halftime, then hit the wall - in the form of Baxter and Holden.

Baxter scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half on 4-for-4 shooting, and added 10 rebounds to record his second straight double double and earn tournament MVP honors.

Holden, who played for much of the game in foul trouble on a night when reserve forward Chris Wilcox had the same problem, awakened from a season-long scoring slump to score a season-high 15 points, all in the second half. Holden recovered from an ineffective, 0-for-2 show in the first half by making all four of his shots from the field after halftime.

Baxter and Holden, who also combined to make 12 of 14 free throws, were in the thick of Maryland's 18-6 run at the start of the second half. They scored 14 of the Terrapins' points during that stretch, as Maryland took a 54-40 lead with 12:44 left and never led by fewer than seven points after that.

Only a 20-point performance by Connecticut forward Caron Butler and the three-point shooting of guard Ben Gordon (10 points) kept the Huskies in Maryland's neighborhood.

But Connecticut could not solve Baxter. And when the Huskies double-teamed the senior, they paid the price for leaving Holden alone on the wing.

"It feels a lot better. It feels like I helped out," said Holden, who entered the game averaging just 4.7 points and had yet to score in double figures. "I just found myself open a lot in the second half. Coach [Gary Williams] tells us to shoot the ball with confidence. [The Huskies] were doubling down on Lonny big-time, and I let the game come to me."

"With Tahj, he's got a real good stroke. He thinks like a guard. There's no reason he can't do that," Williams said. "I wasn't surprised it happened, but I was waiting."

The Terps also needed Holden to emerge on a night when senior guard Juan Dixon's stroke failed him. Dixon, who turned the ball over a season-high six times, once again was the leader of the Terps' defense - Connecticut committed 21 turnovers and produced only 10 assists.

Dixon missed 13 of 18 shots, yet gave Maryland another strong effort with 16 points, five rebounds, six steals and three assists. For the tournament, Dixon made only seven of 27 attempts from the field, yet still scored 30 points, hitting all 13 of his free throws.

"They're a tough team to beat because of their size, and because they share the ball so well," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "I was really impressed with how they played so well with each other. We got beat by a team that outplayed us."

Maryland was not at its sharpest in either BB&T outing, but the Terps showed their toughness and experience by putting people away in crunch time. Maryland trailed Princeton by 14 points early in the second half before rallying for a 61-53 victory.

Last night, they were beaten by 10 on the boards by Connecticut and committed 15 turnovers. But behind Baxter and Holden, they shook off 13-for-40 shooting in the first half by shooting 63.6 percent in the second half to outclass the Huskies, who were averaging 92.7 points in their first three games.

Sparked by Baxter, Maryland bolted to an 11-2 lead. Baxter began his night by converting a three-point play, two free throws, and a layup after grabbing an offensive rebound. When Dixon completed the game-opening run with two free throws at the 15:35 mark, Connecticut had missed its first five shots, committed five turnovers and Calhoun had been whistled for coming onto the floor to argue a no-call.

It got worse for the Huskies, as the Terps extended their lead to 21-7 with 12:10 left.

But after Calhoun had burned his second timeout, Connecticut unleashed a 13-0 run, trimming Maryland's lead to 21-20 with 7:48 left. The Terps never lost the lead, but they did cooperate by missing shot after shot and turning the ball over repeatedly the rest of the half.