The NCAA basketball tournament started almost perfectly for Maryland tonight.
The Terrapins received a scare a lecture from their coach and a superb performance from Albert King. They survived an anxious first 20 minutes then put together an excellent second half and put away a spunky Tennessee-Chattanooga team, 81-69, before 13,252 fans in the University of Dayton arena.
King, who took it upon himself to post down low in the second half, scored 25 points to lead all scorers and becam Maryland's all-time scoring leader with 2,036 points, surpassing John Lucas' 2,015.
The Terps (21-9) will play Indiana Saturday afternoon.
Tennessee-Chattanooga (21-9) was led by James Jones with 17 points and Russell Schoene with 16. Ernest Graham had 18 for the Terps and Greg Manning and Buck Williams had 13 apiece, 11 of Williams' points coming in the second half.
The Moccasins, hardly initimidated by playing their first Division I tournment game ever, shot 55 percent the first half and led, 41-39, at intermission. But after Coach Lefty Driesell gave his team a stern talk at the break, the Terps shot 57 percent while the Mocs faded to 29 percent.
"I don't know what happened the first half, whether we played scared or they played great," Driesell said. "They were in a good position with everything to gain and nothing to lose. I just had to get on our guys a little bit at halftime."
Angrily, Driesell told his players they had to get the ball inside to Williams, who had just two foul shots the first half. He told them to tighten up defensively and to take smarter shots.
"He also told us that if we didn't get our act together, we'd be going home in the morning," said Williams, who was bothered by an upset stomach. "I guess we heard him."
"Yeah," said Graham, four of six the second half after a three for eight first half, "we all got scared straight."
Just as important as getting scared was King's decision to abandon the spot near the top of the key where he had been the entire game to move down low on the base line.
There are few players of any size, much less someone 6-4 such as the Moccasins' Eric Smith, who can stop King from shotting when he plays with his back to the basket. What's more, King's more to the base line opened up the middle for Williams, who had been sloughed on heavily the first half.
"I just decided to move down there because things were clogged up in the middle and I figured my being at the foul line was part of it," King said. "I had been open there but I thought if I went to the base line, it might open some other things up."
King was right. He moved himself with the score tied at 47 four minutes into the half. Immediately Williams came open across the middle for a soft turnaround shot to make it 49-47. Nick Morken tied it for the final time with 15:04 left. Then Williams hit another short shot and King was fouled after taking a pass inside. King made both shots for a 53-49 lead with 13:47 left.
The Moccasins were finished. Freshman point guard Willie White, one of three Mocs who scored 10 points, made two foul shots to cut it to 53-51. But that was the last gasp.
The Terps came down and King went to the base line. Triple-teamed, he still called for the ball, got it 10 feet out, turned and hit as he was fouled. That made it 56-51 with 11:35 to go. White put up an ill-conceived 22-footer, Graham rebounded, went the length of the floor and was fouled as his driving bank shot went in. The free throw made it 59-51 and Tennessee-Chattanooga never got closer than five again as the Terps worked the ball to King and Williams whenever the Moccasins tried to challenge.
"We needed to play a good 40 minutes to win and we got maybe 33 or 34 good minutes," UTC Coach Murray Arnold said. "King just burned us. But this wasn't any 12-point runaway."
True. "We weren't so much worried at halftime as concerned," King said. "I knew we couldn't play any worse the second half. Anytime you're playing Chattanooga and you know your next game is with Indiana, you're going to look ahead. But they played well the first half. Give them some credit, too."
It was easy for the Terps to give credit after they had coasted to their win. The night was historic, not only because of King's record, but because Manning dunked the ball the first time in his career.
"The guys had been getting on me about that in practice," Manning said, smiling under the beginnings of a mustache. "I just figured it was time for me to try one."
Perhaps the sight of Manning dunking for a 14-10 lead made the Terps cocky because, after upping the lead to 16-10, they were outscored 11-0 the next 3:30. But they stayed calm, took their lecture from Driesell at the half and did what they had to do to cruise to the end.
Their 53 percent shooting from the field and relatively low turnover total -- 10 -- were encouraging figures with Indiana coming up next. They also had 21 assists and outrebounded the Moccasins, 42-36, Williams getting 16.
"We weren't great or anything but that's not a bad team," Manning said. "I think this worked out well. It was a good warmup for us. Not a blowout or a scare, but a good warmup."
Only one thing put a damper on Driesell's evening. He learned after the game that his son Chuck's Springbrook team lost in the Maryland state high school playoffs. Other than that, the Terps had no complaints.
"And Saturday," King said with a large smile, "we get to wear our gold uniforms."