At halftime tonight, the fourth-ranked Terrapins trailed 18th-ranked Syracuse, 42-39, with the Orangemen spurred on by a crowd of 18,662 in the Carrier Dome.
Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell walked into his locker room, looked at his players and said, "Men, we've got 'em right where we want 'em."
He was right. The Terps shot at a phenomenal 83 percent rate the second half and defeated Syracuse, 83-73, to win the fourth annual Carrier Classic.
For 20 minutes, the Terrapins (4-0) let Syracuse (2-1) and its fans have their fun.They fell behind by as many as eight as the inspired home team shot 56 percent for the half, coverting jump short after jump shot.
Then, after agreeing with their coach that Syracuse could not possibly continue its torrid pace, they played a second half almost as close to perfection as five basketball players working together can come.
Tournament MVP Greg Manning and Albert King had 21 points each, 16 of Manning's coming in the final 10 minutes when the Terps were pulling away. Buck Williams had 20 points (nine of 10 from the floor) and Ernest Graham 17. and Dutch Morley, playing the final 36 minutes at the point, had four points, four rebounds and five assists, and excelled when Syracuse tried in vane to press.
"We played well," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, now 59-2 at home in five seasons, the loses to Georgetown and Maryland. "We did a lot of good things. But look, I voted them No. 3 last week and you can see why. They're right there with anybody."
In the final 20 minutes, Maryland made 19 of 23 shots from the floor. They used a zone defense that shut off the sharp inside passing of the Orange. They outrebounded Syracuse, 17-7.
"Our rebounding and our defense did it the second half," Driesell said. "The first half they came out like a house afire, they were just hitting everything. They shot 56 percent and only got two layups.
"I just came in here and told the guys that they were probably in there celebrating with a three-point lead and we had them where we wanted them if we just went out and played agressive the second half."
The Terps, who had a hard time staying interested in their first three victories, faced no such problem tonight -- especially King, who had scored just 42 points the first three games, content to watch his less-heralded teammates put away weak opponents.
Tonight, after several friends had commented that he had not looked ready to play, King was ready.
King made 10 of 16 shots, including six points during the Terp drive that turned a 46-42 Syracuse lead into a 58-52 Maryland advantage. The other 10 in that stretch came from Williams, who had a sluggish first half but, "got to playing' like a horse," according to Driesell, in the second.
When Driesell ordered a 1-2-2 zone defense with the score tied at 50 four minutes into the second half, Syracuse didn't have enough answers. The Orange, led by Eric Santifer with 19 points and Marty Headd with 18, had gotten the ball inside early in the second half against Maryland's man-to-man. Against the zone, they couldn't score from the outside and turned the ball over when they tried to go inside.
The Terps ran off a quick 8-2 spurt to take control and after a three-point play by Tony Bruin cut the margin to three, took a 62-55 lead on a Manning shot. From there, they were never headed. As Syracuse tried to press and time and again the Terps easily escaped the pressure and fed Manning, who was almost automatic (seven of eight the the second half) on transition, for basket after basket.
"They hurt us with the zone because we had to have the outside shot against it and didn't get it," Boeheim said. "I knew before the game if we had to press we'd probably be in trouble but we were down seven and it was our only chance. You're not going to have any success pressing that team, though. They handle the ball too well."
Tonight, for 20 minutes, the Terps did everything better than well. As Morley sat watching the celebration, someone asked if anyone could beat the Terps when they play as they did tonight.
Morley hesitated, not wanting to say anything that would sound cocky. Before he could answer, freshman Steve Rivers, who had witnessed the show from up close, answered him.
"No way," he said, softly at first. Then, louder: "No way, just no way. You can't beat that stuff."