Six games into the season, the Maryland men's basketball team has yet to show the ability to put away opponents after opening sizable leads. But the youthful Terrapins have been good enough to win anyway, and they did it again tonight behind a near-perfect shooting performance by star forward Terence Morris.
With Maryland passing the ball like a hot potato, Morris made 8 of 8 shots from the field and 4 of 5 from the free throw line to score a game-high 20 points and lead No. 24 Maryland to an 83-65 victory over Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before 12,310 at Baltimore Arena.
Often making the extra pass to get a better shot against Iowa's 2-3 matchup zone defense, Maryland shot 56.6 percent overall and made 14 of 19 shots in the second half. Point guard Steve Blake and forward Danny Miller each had seven of the Terrapins' 25 assists as Maryland won its fifth consecutive game here. Maryland made 24 of 36 shots from inside the three-point arc.
"We passed the ball great," Coach Gary Williams said. "I was really excited about that. We need to be that type of team this year. Every team has an identity and I really think that for us to be as good as we can be, we have to pass the basketball."
While Maryland passed the ball well tonight, it once again failed to bury an opponent after building a comfortable lead. In its season-opening 71-61 victory over San Francisco, the Terrapins had a 16-point lead cut to two. Against Notre Dame last Friday, Maryland had an 18-point lead cut to one before winning, 72-67.
Tonight, the Terrapins (5-1) never trailed and led by 20 points in the second half. But Iowa, which defeated then-No. 1 Connecticut in its season opener under first-year coach Steve Alford, closed to 70-63 on a three-pointer from the top of the key by Kyle Galloway with five minutes left.
Then Maryland got a surprising boost from struggling center Mike Mardesich. The redshirt junior, who tied a career low by playing just four minutes against Notre Dame, made a turnaround, 10-foot jumper from the right baseline on the Terrapins' next possession to make it 72-63. Then, after diving on the floor and nearly getting a steal, Mardesich corraled a loose ball and was fouled by center Jacob Jaacks, his fifth foul.
Mardesich made 1 of 2 free throws and with Jaacks out, Iowa managed just two points the rest of the game.
Though his team's lead dwindled to the point that the crowd grew hushed, Williams said he was pleased with Maryland's ability to hold on for the victory.
"I knew they were going to make a run at us when we took it out at the start of the second half," Williams said. "I thought we handled it well. We kept our composure maybe a little better than we did against Notre Dame when they made their run. So hopefully we're learning in those situations."
Said Morris, who also had six assists and five rebounds: "I think we got satisfied when we were up. We don't have that killer instinct yet, but we're getting there. We pushed the lead right back up to where it was. If we can learn to put teams away when we have a chance, we'll be a better team."
Maryland had a balanced scoring effort tonight. Guard Juan Dixon scored 18 points, center Lonny Baxter had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Miller tied a career-high with 14 points. He also had five rebounds. Many of the Terrapins' baskets came on short or open shots, as they continually whipped the ball around the perimeter and tried to get it inside.
On one occasion, during a 10-0 run that gave Maryland a 52-33 lead early in the second half, the Terrapins threw three passes off an inbounds play without dribbling and Morris finished the sequence with a thundering right-handed dunk. On Maryland's next possession, Morris drew the defense and fed Baxter for a dunk.
"You have the ball and you think you have a shot and the defense flies at you," Williams said. "That means somebody helped off of somebody and that person they left to help on you has a better shot. You can shoot it and nobody will say much about it because you're open, but that next pass leads to Lonny's dunk or Terence's dunk down the lane."
Terrapins Notes: This was Maryland's first regular season game against a Big Ten opponent since the 1985-86 season. . . . The Terrapins held guard Dean Oliver to a season-low nine points on 2-of-10 shooting. . . .
With eight blocks (three each by Morris and Baxter), Maryland has 52 this season to 15 for its opponents. . . . The Terrapins will try to make it two in a row against the Big Ten on Saturday, when they play No. 16 Illinois in the first round of the BB&T Classic at MCI Center.
THE ACC-BIG TEN CHALLENGE
Maryland 83, Iowa 65
Minnesota 74, Virginia 62
Wake Forest 67, Wisconsin 48
Duke 72, Illinois 69
Michigan at Georgia Tech, 7, ESPN
N.C. State at No. 19 Purdue, 7:30, ESPN2
Clemson at Penn State, 8
No. 8 Michigan St. at No. 2 North Carolina, 9, ESPN
Florida State at Northwestern, 9:30, ESPN2