With only one returning starter and three freshmen in the playing rotation, there is much to learn about the Maryland men's basketball team before the regular season begins in two weeks. Last night, in their exhibition opener, freshman shooting guard Drew Nicholas gave the Terrapins' faithful something to look forward to.
Nicholas missed his first shot, then made six consecutive three-pointers in the second half to help Maryland to a 98-79 victory over the Down Under Bandits before a crowd of 10,203 at Cole Field House.
Nicholas, with a team-high 20 points, was one of five Terrapins in double figures against the touring team composed mainly of Australians. Redshirt sophomore Juan Dixon, splitting time between shooting guard and point guard, had 18 points and five assists; preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Terence Morris had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks.
"Offensively, the thing that pleased me most was our passing," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "I thought we really looked well for each other the whole game. This time of year, that's not always the case. It's not intentional, but guys don't always see the open guy."
Though the game was sloppy at times (Maryland had 24 turnovers), freshman Steve Blake looked comfortable in his debut as the starting point guard. He finished with 7 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds, second on the team to Morris.
Maryland shot the ball well on the perimeter, making 12 of 23 three-pointers. In addition to the slender, 6-foot-3 Nicholas, forward Danny Miller was 3 of 6 from three-point range and Dixon was 2 of 5.
But it was Nicholas that caught the crowd's attention with his remarkable stretch that started midway through the second half. At one point, the unheralded recruit from Hempstead, N.Y., scored 12 of the Terrapins' 14 points.
After missing his only shot of the first half, an air ball three-pointer from the right side, Nicholas was perfect in the second half--taking all of his shots from the left half of the court. He started with a three-pointer from the left side midway through the half, then made a 23-footer from the left wing to give Maryland a 74-55 lead. One minute later, Nicholas made another long three from the left wing, then spotted up on the fast break on the left wing, took a pass from Morris and made another three.
Finally, with the crowd oohing every time Nicholas touched the ball, Dixon grabbed a rebound and threw a length of the court baseball pass to Nicholas. As Dixon raised both of his arms in the air, Nicholas made another three from the left side, drawing a loud chorus of "Droooo" from the crowd.
"After I hit the first one, my confidence soared," said Nicholas, who has a two-inch scar on the back of his left [non-shooting] hand from a preseason operation to insert three screws to help heal a broken bone. "It just started to go in a pattern. Every shot felt the same. I don't know how many I hit in a row.
"What can you say when you have the crowd chanting your name? I tried not to let it get to my head."
Said Williams: "That's the thing Drew has to do. He's got the green light. . . . At halftime, I told him, 'Take the open shot. That's what you're here for.' "
Had it been a regular season game, Nicholas would have been one short of the school record for three-pointers in a game, set by former standout Walt Williams in 1992 against Florida State.
Nicholas also had six rebounds and two assists. Damien Robertson led the Down Under Bandits with a game-high 22 points.
Before the game, Williams said he planned to substitute as though it were a regular season game and Maryland used an eight-player rotation most of the night. Nicholas was the lone backcourt reserve, with redshirt junior Mike Mardesich and freshman Tahj Holden subbing in the frontcourt.
At times, the Terrapins had a big lineup that included 7-foot Mardesich at center, 6-10 Holden or 6-8 Lonny Baxter (12 points) at power forward and the 6-9 Morris at small forward. At other times, Maryland went to a three-guard look with Blake, Dixon and Nicholas.