Maryland's early season mismatches ended tonight. The Terrapins trailed early in the second half, but went to an offense designed especially for sophomore Adrian Branch and escaped with a 67-66 victory over Canisius in Memorial Auditorium.
"It shouldn't have been this close, but Canisius is pretty tough to beat here," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, referring to the enthusiastic crowd of 12,436.
Branch made two free throws with 16 seconds left for a 67-62 Maryland lead. But a layup by swing man Ray Hall pulled Canisius within 67-64 with eight seconds left.
Maryland guard Steve Rivers slipped while catching the ensuing inbounds pass and was called for traveling, giving Canisius possession again with seven seconds remaining. Hall, the Griffins' best player, made a short jumper with three seconds left. But Maryland got the ball inbounds as the clock ran out. Canisius had used all its timeouts.
"It would have been a long trip home if we had lost this one," said Branch, who made 13 of 15 free throws and scored a game-high 23 points. "But now that we've been in a pressurized situation on the road, maybe we'll respond better in the future."
After leading by as many as 12 points in the first half, Canisius surged at the beginning of the second half and took a 41-40 lead with 16 minutes to play.
But Branch, taking advantage of an offense designed for him, over the next six minutes scored 11 points, two on an offensive rebound basket after Fothergill's missed free throw, that gave the Terrapins a fairly comfortable lead, 53-47.
Maryland (2-1) would need all the cushion it could get, because the Terrapins missed the front end of several one-and-one free throw sets, including two by Steve Rivers in the final minute, that allowed Canisius (1-2) to make the contest much closer than it should have been.
But the Terrapins were happy they had enough poise to hold on and even suggested the game could bring improvement in the long run.
Said forward Herman Veal, "This should help us gain some confidence. We needed to learn how to stand up under some pressure. We should have done it better than this, but you have to realize they have a pretty good club, too."
Several Terrapins played well tonight. Fothergill had 14 points and five rebounds, center Ben Coleman scored 13 and had eight rebounds and guard Jeff Adkins made all five of his field goal attempts and scored 11 points. For Canisius, Hall scored 20 points and forward Lee Stringfellow had 18.
But the difference was Branch, who came into the game averaging 23.5 points per game.
"He was super," Driesell said.
So, it appeared, was Driesell's decision to go to the offense called "Special" with Canisius holding its 41-40 lead (the Griffins' only lead) four minutes into the second half.
Coleman and Fothergill lined up on the same side of the floor and set a double-screen for Branch, who would take a pass from Rivers or Adkins, use his interference to run around the left baseline and make a short jumper or draw the foul.
"Adrian is clutch," Rivers said. "We look to him for late-game plays."
Maryland was ahead, 42-41, when Branch was fouled on a drive to the basket. He made two free throws for a 44-41 lead. After a Canisius basket, Branch drove into the lane, around a pick set by Coleman, for a short jumper and a 46-43 lead. Branch later made two free throws after drawing another base line foul for a 50-45 lead. And his rebound at one end and driving layup at the other put the Terrapins ahead, 55-49.
"They encouraged me to run the play," Branch said. "But we played together at the end, and I think that was the most important thing."
In the second game of the doubleheader, St. Bonaventure (2-1) defeated Niagara, 60-55. The Purple Eagles (0-3) had 21 turnovers.