Maryland showed effort, heart and determination--rallying from a 16-point deficit in the second half--but the 24th-ranked Terrapins had turnovers on five straight crucial possessions and fell, 61-58, to No. 11 Kentucky tonight in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden.
After star forward Terence Morris almost single-handedly led the Terrapins' rally, Maryland had several late chances to force overtime, but could not convert. Juan Dixon missed two three-pointers in the final 20 seconds that would have tied the game. The latter, from beyond the NBA three-point line on the left wing, was just a little too strong as time expired.
"It looked like it was good when it left my hands," said Dixon, who entered the game averaging a team-high 22 points but finished with a season-low eight on 3-of-17 shooting. "I got a tough roll."
The Terrapins, who have not beaten Kentucky since the 1957-58 season, will have to wait until Dec. 11 at Cole Field House for another shot at the Wildcats.
In Friday's consolation game, Maryland will play Notre Dame. No. 8 Arizona, which never trailed in defeating Notre Dame, 76-60, in tonight's other semifinal, will play Kentucky in a battle of Wildcats for the championship.
"It just got crazy in the first half. I don't know if it was because it was the first time in the Garden for a lot of guys or if it was the first big game they have played or what," said Terrapins Coach Gary Williams, who switched to a relaxed, man-to-man defense in the second half, helping hold Kentucky to 5-of-25 shooting.
"We didn't do what we usually do--the way we run our offense and defense," Williams said. "Kentucky is too good for that. You might get away with that against other teams, but you don't get away with that against Kentucky."
Maryland (3-1) had clawed back from a 40-24 halftime deficit and tied the game at 52 when Morris fought through traffic in the lane and tapped in Lonny Baxter's miss with 6 minutes 34 seconds left. Morris finished with 25 points, leading the Terrapins in scoring for the first time this season.
"He was great in the second half," Williams said. "He wanted the ball. Terence doesn't have to change his personality, but I want him to want the ball. He's our veteran, go-to guy."
But the Terrapins failed to score for nearly four minutes, getting off just one shot while making an array of turnovers, including stepping on the sideline with the ball three times.
Kentucky, which had gone more than 10 minutes without a field goal and missed 4 of 11 free throws during the stretch, got a putback from freshman center Marvin Stone and a steal and layup from freshman guard Keith Bogans (DeMatha) to go back in front, 57-52. Bogans, who had scored two points in Kentucky's previous two games, had 17 tonight.
But Maryland did not go away quietly. Baxter made a 12-footer from the right side and Morris made two free throws to make it 57-56 with 2:01 left. Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince answered with two free throws and Maryland missed its next four shots, including a three-pointer by Morris and another by Dixon from the right wing that would have tied the game with 20 seconds left. After Kentucky's Desmond Allison made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 60-56, Dixon made a layup with 8.2 seconds left to give Maryland a final chance.
Maryland fouled Jamaal Magliore on the inbounds play and he made 1 of 2 free throws to push the lead back to three points at 61-58. Out of timeouts, Dixon hurried the ball upcourt, but his long three-pointer from the left wing was a little strong and bounced away.
"They were long shots, but Juan is a good long-distance shooter," Williams said. "The second one, I thought it was in. It looked good from the bench."
About two seconds after time had expired, Maryland's Danny Miller made a three-pointer from the right wing.
The thrilling finish was a surprise after Maryland played a lackluster first half. The Terrapins appeared on the verge of being run off the court several times, wasting almost every chance they had to climb back in the game.
Trailing by 16, Maryland scored the first 10 points of the second half and things stayed interesting the rest of the way.
Midway through the half, Maryland used a 9-1 run to pull within one point. Morris made a jump hook, banked in an eight-foot, right-handed shot, then made a three-pointer from the right corner as a Kentucky defender jumped at him. Finally, freshman point guard Steve Blake stripped Kentucky point guard Saul Smith as Smith tried to shoot and Blake went coast-to-coast for a layup to bring Maryland within 51-50 with 9:36 left. Kentucky's Prince (team-high 21 points) made 1 of 2 free throws, then Morris's tap-in tied the game for the first and only time. The Terrapins had one chance to take the lead, but Baxter stepped on the left baseline as he drove to the basket and Maryland never had another chance.
"You get tired when you make a run like that," Williams said. "It takes a lot out of you. I thought we had enough to sustain it. . . . But we slopped it around a couple times."