The Maryland men's basketball team looked as if it was playing its first game of the season with four new starters and three freshmen in its eight-man playing rotation. The Terrapins were nervous, struggled to maintain offensive consistency and were sloppy handling the ball.
But with guard Juan Dixon turning in a career night offensively and center Lonny Baxter scoring seven consecutive points in a crucial stretch of the second half, Maryland held on for a 71-61 victory last night over San Francisco in the first round of the Preseason NIT before 14,317 at Cole Field House.
Star forward Terence Morris finished with 16 points and nine rebounds for the Terrapins, who provided Coach Gary Williams with the 400th victory of his career. It also was Maryland's 65th consecutive nonconference home victory, the longest such streak in the nation.
"I knew it was going to be interesting," Williams said after the season opener for both teams. "We had a lot of guys out there playing different roles, from high school to college and from coming off the bench to being starters and being important players for us. It was interesting to watch. I thought we played well at times. What we want to increase is the number of minutes we play well. I thought early in the game we might have been a little nervous, a little tentative and we just couldn't get it going until the end of the half."
Maryland will host Tulane on Friday in a second-round game. The winner of that game advances to the semifinals next Wednesday against the winner of Friday's Kentucky-Utah game.
Tulane advanced last night by beating Fordham, 80-69, and Kentucky defeated Pennsylvania, 67-50.
Entering its first appearance in the Preseason NIT, many wondered whether Maryland would be able to compensate for the loss of four starters, including Steve Francis, the second overall pick in this past NBA draft. And though they never trailed, the Terrapins struggled early. Freshman point guard Steve Blake finished with six turnovers, six assists and a slightly injured left foot when he was stepped on while trying to take a charge with five minutes left.
However, Williams said he did not think the injury was serious. Blake returned in the final two minutes to play only in offensive situations.
"He seemed all right," Williams said. "I'm assuming he'll be able to play on Friday."
San Francisco, like many teams are expected to do against the Terrapins, focused on stopping Morris. He had difficulty finding a rhythm early on and his teammates had difficulty getting him the ball in good position.
However, Maryland was able to take a 40-26 lead as Dixon scored 12 of his career-high 20 points in the first half. He slashed to the basket effectively, making 6 of 9 shots.
San Francisco made a little run early in the second half, narrowing a 16-point lead to 11 on a goaltending call against Morris with 17 minutes left. After that basket, Dons point guard LyRyan Russell slapped the court with both hands, looked directly at Blake and said, "Let's see what you got, boy."
Maryland responded with a jump hook by reserve center Mike Mardesich and a putback by Morris to push its lead back to 48-33 with 16 minutes left. But the Terrapins had a much harder time holding the lead when San Francisco made its next surge.
After Dixon scored on a drive to put Maryland ahead 54-40 with 13:31 left, the Terrapins went scoreless for more than four minutes. San Francisco scored 12 consecutive points, almost all from close range, and pulled to 54-52 when center Kenyon Jones, a transfer from California, fed forward Darrell Tucker for a layup with 9:29 left.
However, Maryland was resilient again, looking inside to Baxter (18 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) to rebuild the lead. The sophomore scored the game's next seven points to restore the Terrapins' lead to 61-52 with 6:36 left.
"I wasn't nervous," Baxter said. "We just had to do something. There was no way we were going to lose this game, at home. We just had to get rolling.
Later, a dunk by Morris made it 64-54 and Maryland's lead never again dipped below nine points.
In the final minute, Maryland twice took advantage of an experimental rule used in Preseason NIT games that allowed it to take the ball out of bounds instead of shooting free throws since San Francisco had more than 10 fouls.
Terrapins Notes: Maryland football coach Ron Vanderlinden, who has said neither he nor his players will talk to the media this week, spoke to the crowd at halftime and encouraged them to attend Saturday's home game against Virginia. A victory would give the Terrapins a 6-5 record and make them eligible for a bowl game.
"It is with a great deal of confidence that I can say it is going to happen," he said, "and we need your support."
TULANE 80, FORDHAM 69: Morris Jordan had 24 points and nine rebounds to lead the Green Wave over the visiting Rams.
Tulane, which drew 37 fouls and was 27 of 47 from the line, led 42-29 at halftime and was never in danger. Four players from Fordham, including three starters, fouled out.
Reserve Sterling Davis added 19 points and Dylan Osean had 15 for Tulane, which opened its 11th season under Coach Perry Clark.
The loss spoiled former NBA coach Bob Hill's debut at Fordham.
Bevon Robin had 24 points and Jason Harris added 15 for Fordham. Both fouled out in the second half. Terumun Johnson added 11 points and reserve Duke Freeman-McKamey, who also fouled out, had 10.
KENTUCKY 67, PENN 50: No. 14 Kentucky took control with an 18-4 run midway through the second half and cruised past visiting Pennsylvania.
Coming off the bench, freshman big man Marvin Stone enjoyed a fine debut for the Wildcats, leading the team with 12 points and grabbing six rebounds. His rim-rattling dunk with 5:56 remaining gave Kentucky a 61-44 lead and brought the fans out of their seats to punctuate the win.
Though their attack frequently sputtered, the Wildcats got balanced scoring and rebounding. Jamaal Magloire had 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds, Tayshaun Prince had nine points and eight rebounds and Desmond Allison had 11 points and seven rebound.
A swarming Wildcats defense, which mixed in liberal doses of full- and half-court presses, limited Penn to 31.6 percent shooting from the field, 26.9 percent from three-point range. For the game, the Wildcats outrebounded the Quakers 43-37.