The Maryland men's basketball team passed two tests tonight in defeating Notre Dame, 72-67, in the Preseason NIT consolation game.
First, the 24th-ranked Terrapins (4-1) shook off their tendency to start slowly, opening up an 11-point lead less than 2 1/2 minutes into the game as sophomore forward Danny Miller broke out of a slump. Then, after building an 18-point lead in the second half, Maryland weathered a barrage of three-pointers by the Irish (3-2) and held on for a victory--even after the Terrapins' preseason all-American, junior forward Terence Morris, fouled out with 1 minute 7 seconds left.
In the championship game that followed, No. 8 Arizona beat No. 11 Kentucky, 63-51.
"Playing with a lead, having to come from behind like we did against Kentucky [in a 61-58 semifinal loss on Wednesday], all those things are good experiences; but they are new experiences for this team this year," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. ". . . We're trying to get to where we can play this level of [opponent] and be consistent. As you saw tonight, we were really up and down. . . .
"I think that is why you play these games in November--to try and get to that point where you can go pretty close to 40 minutes and play as well as you can."
Starting slowly had become a habit for Maryland, which trailed Kentucky by 16 points in the first half Wednesday and fell behind Tulane by 22 points in the first seven minutes Nov. 19. Changing that--along with helping Miller out of the doldrums--was a focus for tonight.
The Terrapins opened with plenty of energy. Maryland's press got Notre Dame playing at a quicker pace than it is accustomed, and Miller's second three-pointer from the right side gave the Terrapins a 13-2 lead with 17:38 left in the first half. Along with the different start came a different look from Morris. He is considered the most quiet player on the team, but he led the trash-talking tonight.
"I just wanted to get the team pumped up," Morris said. "They seem to kind of feed off that. When they see somebody excited, they all pretty much get the same way. . . .
"We had come out flat a lot before in other games. We wanted to make a change and be the one on top instead of chasing the other team."
Maryland led 39-28 at halftime and had a quick start to the second half. It scored the first seven points and took its biggest lead of the game, 46-28, when Morris fed freshman point guard Steve Blake for a three-pointer with 18:19 left.
Blake, who had totaled 18 points in the Terrapins' first four games, made 3 of 4 three-point attempts and finished with 14 points. All five Maryland starters finished in double figures, led by sophomore center Lonny Baxter's 17 points. Miller and Morris each had 12, and Baxter also had 14 rebounds.
"Baxter is a load, both literally and figuratively," Notre Dame Coach Matt Doherty said.
But while Maryland started quickly and built a lead, it failed to keep the lead. The Terrapins started to settle for jump shots, which they missed, while Notre Dame countered with numerous three-pointers. The Irish closed to 66-65 on two free throws by their standout, sophomore forward Troy Murphy (25 points, 11 rebounds), with 2:20 left.
But Juan Dixon fed Morris for a layup, and Miller made a free throw to push the lead back to 69-65. Morris fouled out trying to block a shot by Murphy, but Murphy missed the ensuing free throws.
Blake turned over the ball when he lost his dribble off an official's foot, but after a tap-in by Notre Dame's Harold Swanagan made it 69-67, Dixon made two free throws.
Meantime, Dixon said, two weeks into the season, Maryland is passing on his report card.
"I give this team an 'A,' " said Dixon, who had 11 points, 6 steals, 5 assists and 5 rebounds. "A lot of people didn't think we were going to be that good. Nobody really had any confidence in us except this family--the people in this locker room. We just have to keep going hard. We have some big games coming up and we want to show people we belong in the top 10 or top 15."
Terrapins Notes: Junior center Mike Mardesich played just four minutes, equaling his shortest game appearance at Maryland. He has not scored in the past two games, and has just four rebounds.
"It's not Little League. Every kid isn't guaranteed an inning," Williams said when asked about Mardesich's reduced role, later adding that he thought Mardesich had played well. . . . Morris also had six rebounds, six assists and six blocks.
American at Delaware, 7:30
George Mason vs. Coppin State, 7:30
George Washington vs. South Florida, 7:30
Navy vs. Air Force, 3
Virginia vs. Arizona State at Puerto Rico Shootout, 1:30 p.m.
Others: Montgomery-Rockville vs. Champlain at Hagerstown tournament, 1; Franklin & Marshall vs. Philadelphia Pharmacy at Gallaudet Holiday Tournament, 2; Bowie State vs. Winston-Salem State, 4; UDC vs. California (Pa.), 4; Montgomery-Germantown vs. Spartansburg Methodist at Allegany, 5; Columbia Union vs. Indiana (Pa.), 9
Georgetown vs. Lafayette, 2
Navy at Southwestern Louisiana, 5:35
Virginia vs. Texas in Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu, 10:30
Patriot Thanksgiving Classic at George Mason:
George Washington vs. Southern Methodist at SMU Classic tournament, 3
Terrapin Classic at Maryland:
UNC Charlotte vs. West Virginia, 2
Maryland vs. Coppin State, 4
Pepsi Shootout at Oregon:
Howard vs. S. Utah, 9
Virginia Tech vs. Oregon, 11
Others: Gallaudet Holiday tournament: (Gallaudet vs. SUNY Potsdam, 6; Capitol College vs. Randolph-Macon, 8); Bowie State vs. Winston-Salem State, 2; UDC vs. Virginia State, 2; Marymount vs. Alvernia, 4; Columbia Union vs. Shepherd, 7