In a few short hours yesterday, the Maryland men's basketball team moved into the Associated Press rankings, trounced Fairleigh Dickinson and moved on to a showdown against 11th-ranked Kentucky.
After the Terrapins made their season debut in the Associated Press poll at No. 24, freshman reserve shooting guard Drew Nicholas made 9 of 11 shots and scored a game-high 27 points in a 104-45 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson before 13,724 at Cole Field House.
About an hour after the game, Maryland (3-0) boarded a bus for New York, where the Terrapins will find tougher competition. On Wednesday, the Terrapins will play Kentucky in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. No. 8 Arizona will play Notre Dame in the other semifinal; Wednesday's winners and losers will play Friday in the final and consolation game.
Last night "was one of those nights where things really went well early," Terrapins Coach Gary Williams said. "We came out with a lot of energy. We had really been struggling with that lately. That was one of the focus points [in practice] over the weekend."
Pretty much everything went Maryland's way last night. The Terrapins took a 23-1 lead less than eight minutes into the game and their lead never dipped below 19 points. With such a lopsided score, Williams was able to experiment, playing a 3-2 zone that has been effective in the past and trying small forward Danny Miller at point guard for the final 10 minutes.
Redshirt sophomore shooting guard Juan Dixon had 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals for Maryland, and sophomore center Lonny Baxter had 14 points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes. Redshirt junior center Mike Mardesich had 10 points, including a pair of dunks that helped make Fairleigh Dickinson's season opener one to forget.
Junior forward Terence Morris, a member of the AP's preseason all-American team, struggled offensively and finished with just seven points and was 3-of-10 shooting.
"He had some good looks that he didn't convert tonight," Williams said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."
The rest of the game was overwhelmingly positive for Maryland. After being outrebounded in their first two games, the Terrapins held a 47-28 advantage last night and allowed just six second-chance points. They forced 30 turnovers leading to 45 points and were able to rest Dixon, Morris and other starters in preparation for a difficult stretch of five games in 10 days beginning against Kentucky.
Another positive note was the 6-foot-8 Miller appearing to break out of a slump after moving to the point. He appeared more comfortable and willing to be aggressive on offense, finishing with 10 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds.
On one play late in the game, he made a steal, pushed the ball upcourt and slung a right-handed bounce pass to Nicholas for a dunk that made it 86-39 with nine minutes left. About one minute later, Miller dribbled around the perimeter, penetrated the right side of the lane and fed Baxter for a three-point play.
"I don't know why he can't do that at the" shooting guard or small forward positions, Williams said. "He proved he can help us [at point guard]. Now, just go out and do it at [small forward]. Some guys you want to pull back sometimes, but with Danny, you want him to play more reckless. Maybe it took that to get him going. Sometimes you get lucky."
Said Miller: "We had a lead so there wasn't a lot of pressure. I felt I could freelance a little at the point."
Just about everything went right for Maryland, including an attempted alley-oop pass from Dixon to Baxter that went in the basket without Baxter laying a hand on the ball. By halftime, Maryland led 59-24 behind 17 points each from Dixon and Nicholas.
At one point, Fairleigh Dickinson Coach Tom Green grabbed a courtside phone and asked reporters, "How many lifelines do you think I have?"