Terence Morris stood in a hallway outside the Maryland locker room late Saturday night and dutifully answered reporters' questions. Yes, beating No. 23 Kentucky, 72-66, felt good, he said. But no, it was not the biggest victory the junior forward has enjoyed in a Terrapins uniform.
"It feels good but it's just a game," he said. "No paybacks or anything like that. It's just one game. . . . We beat [North] Carolina when they were [No. 1 on Jan. 14, 1998], so I don't really think it was the best one we've had."
While Morris was reserved, his teammates were pleased with their accomplishments that night and in the first month of the season. With Morris playing more assertively than he had all season and scoring a game-high 22 points, the Terrapins led from the start and earned their first victory over Kentucky since Dec. 9, 1957.
It was also No. 21 Maryland's 69th consecutive nonconference home victory, the nation's longest such streak.
"This is a really big win," said forward Danny Miller, who scored just two points but played tough defense on Kentucky standout Tayshaun Prince. "We definitely feel good about ourselves."
Said Maryland Coach Gary Williams: "I told the players it was a great December win. It is as good as it gets in December."
Maryland (8-2) has earned some impressive nonconference victories. Maryland has beaten two teams from the Big Ten (Iowa and then-No.16 Illinois), one from the Big East (Notre Dame), one from Conference USA (Tulane) and one from the Southeastern Conference (Kentucky).
The Terrapins were tied late in each of their losses--61-58 to Kentucky and 74-69 to George Washington.
Williams has been pleased with his youthful team's ability to handle pressure. Freshman point guard Steve Blake has blended nicely into the starting lineup and the Terrapins have proven they can win even when not all of their players are at the top of their games. Against Kentucky, center Lonny Baxter fouled out with two points in 17 minutes, Miller made 1 of 8 shots and shooting guard Juan Dixon made 5 of 17 shots.
"We have some good wins right now," Williams said. "But we can't use that as the best wins we'll have this year. We have to go after better wins now that we have put ourselves in this position."
The Terrapins were in good position throughout Saturday night's victory. They made their first four shots, including a pair of layups and a three-pointer from the right wing by Morris, and took a 16-7 lead.
Though Kentucky was able to close within two points on several occasions, Maryland responded each time. Kentucky scored six consecutive points and got within 65-63 on a steal and layup by Prince with 1 minute 12 seconds left. But Blake broke deep on the inbounds play, took a long pass from Tahj Holden and made an uncontested layup. Kentucky never got closer than four points thereafter.
"I was really pleased with our team, the way we came out," Williams said. "We showed no fear early in the game. We came right after them like we wanted to."
Maryland was picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in a poll of reporters at the league's preseason media day, and the Terrapins said they think their start has surprised most observers.
"A lot of people didn't think we would do this well," Dixon said. "A lot of people thought we would be 4-6 or something like that. We came out and worked hard and showed a lot of people we can play with the top teams in the country. We just have to keep working and start preparing for the ACC."
Because of semester exams, Maryland does not play again until Dec. 27, when it will host George Mason. The Terrapins will not practice today or Tuesday, allowing them time to savor Saturday's victory.
"We feel real good about ourselves," Morris said. "We're 8-2 and those two games, if we had come out and asserted ourselves a little better than we did and cut back on the turnovers, we would be 10-0 right now. We have to feel good about our situation right now."