Maryland basketball falls to No. 5 Pittsburgh in 2K Sports Classic

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 10:55 AM

NEW YORK - Pittsburgh came into Madison Square Garden on Thursday night with the No. 5 national ranking and the edge in height, depth and experience.

The unranked Maryland Terrapins brought a slew of new faces and a reputation to reclaim.

But apart from Pitt's superior rebounding and Maryland's hapless free throw shooting, there was little qualitative difference in the teams - at least not the vast gulf that the rankings suggest.

In the end, Pitt (4-0) won the inelegant battle of missed opportunities and a myriad fouls, 79-70, to advance to Friday's championship round of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. The Panthers will play Texas (3-0), which beat No. 13 Illinois in overtime, 90-84, for the tournament championship.

Maryland (3-1) will play in Friday's consolation game at 5 p.m. against 13th-ranked Illinois (3-1), which was upset in overtime by the Longhorns, 90-84, in Thursday's late semifinal.

There was little surprise in the way Pittsburgh approached the game. With three players 6 feet 9 or taller, the Panthers rotated fresh bodies in and out of their front court with the single purpose of negating sophomore center Jordan Williams, Maryland's leading scorer and rebounder.

Williams acquitted himself well considering the wall of defenders in his face, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds - a performance that nonetheless snapped his five-game streak of double-doubles.

Coach Gary Williams's only complaint afterward was that his team wasn't able to lend more help to the big center.

"That's as big as he'll play against," Williams said of his center. "We couldn't get him the ball quite enough. What has to happen is, other guys have to step up, stretch the defense a little bit."

Senior Cliff Tucker paced the Terps in scoring (17 points) and assists (five). He and Williams were the only Terps in double figures, while Pitt had five in double figures and got 30 points from its bench.

Jordan Williams remained proud afterward, acknowledging the many respects in which Maryland held its own against Pitt and, in some respects, played better.

Maryland scored more field goals (27 to 25); had a higher shooting percentage (48.2 to 46.3), particularly in the first half; and won the turnover battle (nine to 16).

But the Terps torpedoed themselves with yet another miserable showing on the free throw line, missing all seven attempts in the first half and making just 14 of 30 in the game. The Terps were even less effective from three-point range, hitting just 2 of 14 attempts. And after keeping the rebounding differential within reach early, Maryland ended up getting pounded on the boards, 49-28.

In short, there was no shortage of lessons in the loss. Chief among them and most bittersweet: The Terps let a winnable game slip away, in large part, because of something that was essentially in their control. Free throws.

"We were with them," Jordan Williams said afterward. "There was no point in that game where anyone in that crowd could think, 'Oh, this game is over!' We've just got to make our free throws. And we've got to stop letting them get buckets the last three seconds of the shot clock. And stop doing dumb things."

Both teams struggled to score early.

Pitt missed multiple easy layups, but the Terps worked hard on the defensive boards to keep the Panthers from getting second shots.

The lead rocked back and forth, with the teams swapping one-and two-point leads.

Tucker beat everyone down the floor for a layup to hand Maryland its biggest lead, 25-21, with 4 minutes 11 seconds remaining in the first half.

But with Maryland fruitless at the free throw line, Pitt closed the period with a 10-2 run to take a 31-27 lead into the break.

Things got out of hand quickly early in the second half, with Pitt forward Talib Zanna (Bishop McNamara) scoring on back-to-back possessions and guard Ashton Gibbs drilling a three pointer to put the Panthers ahead, 42-29.

Maryland replied with an 11-2 run, with freshman Terrell Stoglin (nine points) driving past defenders for two big baskets. Tucker had a nice jumper, and Dino Gregory electrified supporters with a dunk and the Terps' first successful free throw.

Transfer Berend Weijs, who entered after Williams picked up his third foul, hit an off-balance jumper and converted the subsequent free throw to knot the score at 46 each.

But Pitt came back strong, surging ahead by six. The Terps never got any closer.

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