Terps follow Dixon's lead in 71-61 win

San Francisco falls in season opener at Preseason NIT

Williams wins 400th

UM's 16-point lead cut to 2 in 2nd half

November 18, 1999|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Without a scholarship senior on his roster, Gary Williams has said that he wants to take some time before his Maryland basketball team names permanent captains.

Juan Dixon had something to say about the matter in last night's season opener.

Even with a preseason All-American in Terence Morris, the Terps are a team in transition that is looking for a leader.

They got a sustained effort from Dixon, the sophomore guard from Calvert Hall, and a late push from sophomore center Lonny Baxter to turn back San Francisco, 71-61, before 14,317 at Cole Field House.

Maryland never trailed, and enjoyed a 44-28 lead early in the second half, then saw all but one basket of it evaporate as San Francisco scored 12 unanswered points.

The Terps blanked the Dons over the next four minutes, pounded the ball inside to Baxter and cruised to their 11th straight win in a home opener.

Williams' 11th season at his alma mater and 22nd as a head coach started with his 400th victory. It was also the Terps' 65th in a row at home over a nonconference foe, the longest such streak in the nation.

More importantly, it came in a must-win situation, as Maryland opened in the Preseason National Invitation Tournament.

The Terps advanced to the second round, where they will play Tulane at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Cole Field House. The winner will spend Thanksgiving at Madison Square Garden, site of the 16-team tournament's final four.

When asked the significance of his 400th win, Williams joked: "I'd rather have had it last year."

Morris is the only returning starter from a team that set a school record for wins, but which was stopped in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament by St. John's.

Maryland played all three of its freshmen at one point in the first half on a night when the Terps suffered the occasional lapse, but Dixon was something of a constant.

"Juan has been a catalyst," Williams said. "He's been the guy who gets us fired up so far. I'm pleased with the way he's handled his new role."

In the midst of San Francisco's second-half run, Williams pulled Dixon for a rest and sent him back in 25 seconds later. Dixon made eight of his first 12 shots, then cooled off toward the end of a 34-minute stint.

Dixon gained a reputation as a long-distance bomber last season, but his game-high 20 points last night didn't include any beyond the three-point line. He slashed his way to the basket, hit the glass to the tune of seven rebounds, dove to the floor for three steals and added three assists.

"I just want to be a leader. I want to be vocal," Dixon said. "I just want to be aggressive."

The shooting guard is also the backup at the point for Steve Blake, the freshman who had a shaky start, then injured his right foot with 5: 35 left when one of the Dons stepped on it.

By then, Maryland had passed its first crisis of the campaign, which came when freshman forward Darrell Tucker beat the Terps' 3-2 zone and brought San Francisco within 54-52 with 9: 27 left. Just four minutes earlier, the lead had been 54-40.

The visitors from the West Coast Conference didn't score again until the play when Blake was injured, however, and by then Baxter had banged in seven straight points, all off feeds into the low post.

After Russell Hinder ended San Francisco's dry spell, the Terps sealed the verdict on a dunk by Morris and a transition basket by Dixon.

Baxter avoided foul trouble and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Morris had 16 points and nine rebounds.

"Lonny is a great competitor," Williams said. "He wanted the ball down the stretch and you want that in your players. He's getting better inside and has developed a jump shot."

Williams was unsure how pressurized his defense would be after just a month of practice, but the Dons committed 23 turnovers, 11 in the first half, when the Terps initially found their bearings without the ball.

"We knew coming in that Maryland would press us, and they didn't disappoint," San Francisco coach Phil Mathews said. "I don't think we responded well to the pressure. If we could have attacked the press a little better, I think we'd have a shot."

Maryland headed into the last six minutes of the first half with a 22-20 lead as San Francisco collapsed on Morris and Baxter.

The Terps' only three-pointer of the game, from Blake on the left wing on a pass from classmate Drew Nicholas, loosened up the Dons' defense and triggered an 18-6 run that featured some strong offensive sets in the half court.

Dixon took his defender off a Tahj Holden screen to push the lead to 54-40 with 13: 38 left, before the Terps momentarily lost their way.

Next for Terps

Opponent: Tulane

What: Preseason NIT second round

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

Where: Cole Field House, College Park

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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