Smiles were abundant in the Notre Dame locker room tonight for one of the few times this season, after the Irish defeated a poor foul-shooting Maryland team, 55-51, in the Athletic and Convocation Center.
The unlikely Irish hero was freshman reserve guard Ron Rowan, who called himself "Notre Dame's secret weapon" after making five of six shots and scoring a team-high 14 points against the Terrapins.
The only thing worth talking about in the Maryland locker room was missed free throws. Maryland (10-6) shot 48 percent--nine of 20--from the foul line, thus squandering opportunities to come back from a 12-point deficit midway through the second half.
The Terrapins missed the front end of one-and-one bonus foul shooting situations four times in the second half, leaving Coach Lefty Driesell fuming.
"My grandmother can make one of two free throws," Driesell said. "It's just sorry to miss both of them like we did at times tonight. If we can't shoot but nine of 20 from the foul line, we don't deserve to win. They hit their free throws and we didn't."
After making only three of nine from the line in the first half, Maryland was lucky to trail by only 23-21 at intermission after a seven-minute scoreless stretch. The Irish (4-10) made enough mistakes to keep the Terrapins afloat.
But the Irish took a 29-23 lead on baskets by Barry Spencer, Rowan and center Tim Andree, and increased their margin to 34-25 on a controversial play.
With 15 minutes to play and Maryland trailing, 33-25, freshman Adrian Branch, who scored 16 points, was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a slam dunk over six or seven bodies underneath the basket.
Under a new NCAA rule, a player can hang on the rim to keep from injuring himself or players under the basket. But the official called the technical and called the basket no good. Jim Paxson (nine points) converted the foul shot.
Notre Dame, with the ensuing possession, got the ball to the 6-7 Spencer who dunked, then completed the three-point play with a free throw after being fouled by Taylor Baldwin.
The Irish, because of the technical against Branch, benefited from a six-point swing, and took a 37-25 lead.
"I don't know what that official was talking about on that call," Driesell said. "It's the first time I've seen somebody make that call all season, and he did it in a crucial part of the game."
Maryland did recover quickly however, getting six points from Branch and center Charles Pittman (15 points, 11 rebounds) and a basket from freshman Jeff Adkins to pull within 43-40, with six minutes to play.
But the missed free throws doomed the Terrapins. Pittman, who missed seven of 10 foul shots, missed one with 5:19 left that led to Mike Mitchell's free throw for Notre Dame, and a 47-41 Irish lead.
When Branch missed the front end of a bonus foul shooting situation, Irish forward Bill Varner drove for a layup and a 49-41 lead. That was all for the Terrapins.