Notre Dame 79, Maryland 67
An overtime road loss to a top-10 team was one thing. A thorough beating in a friendly arena is quite another for the ninth-ranked Maryland Terrapins.
Thirty minutes after the Terrapins' 79-67 loss to Notre Dame in the BB&T Classic at MCI Center, Maryland shooting guard Drew Nicholas spoke in a voice filled with emotion as he tried to explain the team's first two-game losing streak since February 2001.
"It seems like guys are taking it for granted that we are going to come out and win basketball games," Nicholas said in a near-silent locker room. "We're the defending national champions -- everybody is coming out to beat us. It kills me. I don't understand it.
"I'm embarrassed just by our effort."
Despite five seniors who were part of last season's championship team, Maryland often looked like a bunch of youngsters as it was baffled by Notre Dame's matchup zone defense much of the game. The Terrapins missed shots early and often, from open three-point attempts to contested post-up jump shots to Travis Garrison's unchallenged dunk attempt that was blocked by the front of the rim.
After missing open shots early, Maryland's players grew more impatient as the game went on. Trailing by double figures much of the second half, the Terrapins appeared to be in search of the 12-point shot that might turn the game around. As a team, Maryland had just 10 assists, half its season average, and shot 37.1 percent, its worst effort in a year.
Nicholas and point guard Steve Blake, the team's top two outside shooters, combined to make 7 of 25 shots, though Blake made 4 of 8 three-point attempts. He was the only Maryland player to make a shot from beyond the arc.
"We wanted to see some jump shots go in before we came out of" the zone, said Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey, a former DeMatha assistant. "We wanted to see Nicholas and Blake make two in a row before we made any decisions to go differently. . . . We've been in that situation. You can't make one and then you get tight and it gets contagious through the rest of the team."
Indeed, the shooting problems spread. With Notre Dame collapsing inside on defense, center Ryan Randle, who scored a career-high 20 points in Tuesday's 80-74 loss at No. 10 Indiana, made 3 of 13 shots and scored six points. Garrison was 1 of 7.
"We couldn't make a shot," Terrapins Coach Gary Williams said. "We didn't have the patience when we weren't shooting well to make the extra pass."
Instead of a potential meeting with second-ranked Texas in today's championship game, Maryland will play George Washington in the consolation game at 1 p.m.
While the Terrapins (3-2) try to regroup, Notre Dame (7-1) celebrated a most satisfying victory, its second in a row over a ranked opponent.
It also marked a successful homecoming for Dan Miller, who transferred from Maryland before the 2001-02 season. Miller was booed every time he touched the ball, but the catcalls became quieter as the game wore on. Miller made 5 of 11 shots (4 of 7 from three-point range) and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. After the final seconds elapsed, Miller stood at midcourt, jubilantly hugging two teammates for several seconds.
Transferring "was about being comfortable," said Miller, again noting that he had yesterday's game circled since he transferred. "I think you saw how comfortable I was today at Notre Dame."
Miller and his teammates continually passed the ball around the perimeter, working for an open shot or getting the ball inside to Torin Francis. The freshman center made all eight of his shots, scoring a career-high 20 points to go with eight rebounds and three blocks. That helped offset a 3-for-14 shooting night by standout point guard Chris Thomas.
Notre Dame used a 9-0 first-half run to take the lead for good. It was 35-25 at halftime and Maryland never got closer than five points. The Terrapins had changed their starting lineup, inserting freshman Nik Caner-Medley at small forward instead of Calvin McCall. Caner-Medley played well, with eight points, seven rebounds and four steals in 22 minutes, but it made no difference.
"Nik played well," Williams said. "It's certainly not the young players' fault that we lost today. If you're a veteran player, you take that responsibility of making the team play well, and we didn't get that today from our veteran players."
After Notre Dame pushed its lead to 53-37 on a three-pointer by Matt Carroll midway through the second half, Maryland made one brief challenge. Blake made back-to-back three-pointers, trimming the deficit to 67-55 with 41/2 minutes left.
However, after Miller made a three-pointer, Nicholas was called for a charge and Miller made two free throws to make it 72-55.
"The effort level wasn't there," Nicholas said. "We got outplayed. We got outworked. There haven't been too many times in my career that's happened."