Terps catch Tulane with closing run

Dixon's shooting spurs 10-0 surge to crash Wave in NIT, 78-70

Trailed 27-10 in 7th minute

Guard's 20 in 2nd half stamps ticket to N.Y.

November 20, 1999|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The first few months of the college basketball season are going to be an educational experience for Maryland. Last night, coach Gary Williams learned that the Terps can come back.

In the seventh minute against Tulane, the Terps trailed by 17 and their plans for a Thanksgiving trip to New York City smelled like stale turkey. Maryland picked up its defense and broke a tie with three minutes left with 10 straight points, to beat the Green Wave, 78-70, in the second round of the Preseason NIT before 14,500 at Cole Field House.

Down 27-10, the Terps got back in the game with a 15-0 run. Juan Dixon, the sophomore guard from Calvert Hall, scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half, eight while the Terps pulled away from a 67-67 tie.

Unranked Maryland (2-0) advanced to Madison Square Garden, where it will play No. 14 Kentucky in Wednesday's semifinals. Notre Dame will play Arizona in the other semifinal, with the consolation and championship games being played Friday.

Picked to finish last in its division of Conference USA after a 12-15 season in which the losses including scoring leader Byron Mouton transferring to Maryland, Tulane put on a new face and ravaged the Terps on the boards, 42-27, the oddest aspect to one of the strangest victories Williams has had recently.

"There were a lot of things happening out there that were weird," Williams said. "It must be a full moon or something. Every game is going to be a contest with this team. I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll be readier than this for the teams that we're more familiar with."

Freshman Steve Blake, part of an eight-man rotation that has no seniors, disputed the inference that Maryland took Tulane lightly, but the Terps' focus was fuzzy at times. In addition to the uninterested start, they botched a couple of dunk opportunities early in the second half, then wasted a chance to build a cushion with 7: 13 left, when a Tulane technical gave them the chance to extend a 61-60 lead by six or even seven points.

They got two.

The Green Wave made its first five shots and 10 of its first 12, as it ripped through Maryland's press early, but it was limited to four baskets over the last 10 minutes. Its field-goal percentage was chopped in half from the first half (.588) to the second (.294).

Preseason All-American Terence Morris was a monster in the blocks category, as his seven came within one of the Preseason NIT record, but he and Danny Miller, the other starting forward, combined for three rebounds in the first 30 minutes. By then, Tulane had a 33-15 bulge in rebounds, and Maryland had one second-chance basket.

"You look at the rebounding totals and you wonder how we won the game," Williams said.

The Terps never trailed after Blake's three-pointer put them ahead 57-55 with 13: 25 left, but they went nearly seven minutes without a field goal against a testy Tulane zone, before put-backs by Morris and Lonny Baxter set the stage for Dixon's heroics at the end.

Tulane answered both times, before Dixon's pull-up 12-footer in traffic on the right side with 2: 42 remaining put Maryland ahead to stay at 69-67. After a free throw by Blake, Dixon broke free for three-pointers on successive possessions.

"I watched the other guys on the team make the big shots last year," Dixon said. "We didn't experience many games like this last year. We either blew people out, or got blown out. This is good, because we're going to have a lot of games like this in the ACC."

Morris got 17 of his 20 points in the first half. Blake, nursing a sprained left ankle that prohibited him from practicing Thursday, had 11 assists. Baxter had 11 points and eight rebounds, but he and Morris were burned repeatedly by Tulane power forward Sterling Davis in the first half, when he had 20 of his 24 points.

Davis prospered as the Green Wave got past the Terps' pressure, which tightened considerably after Tulane took that shocking 27-10 lead.

The visitors committed 14 of their 25 turnovers in the second half, but they lost control in the first, when Drew Nicholas and Mike Mardesich came off the bench and energized the Terps.

"You know the [Maryland] run is coming. They've beaten some awfully tough people in this place," Tulane coach Perry Clark said of the Terps' 65th straight nonconference win at home, the longest such streak in the nation. "What I was proud of is that we gathered ourselves and came back, and were able to take a halftime lead."

Defense sparked the Terps' 15-0 run, and one of Morris' blocks led to a Blake layup and a 29-28 lead. It grew to 40-34 on a three by Dixon and a Miller dunk set up by one of Mardesich's career-high four blocks, but Tulane took a 47-44 halftime lead on a three-point play by Davis and a foul-line jumper by Dylan Osean.

NOTES: Before the Terps head to Manhattan, they meet Fairleigh Dickinson at Cole on Monday. Dixon also had a career-high five assists, all in the first half, when Wade Mason limited him to three shots. It was the second straight game in which Dixon eclipsed his career high in points. He scored 20 in the opening victory over San Francisco. Maryland will play Kentucky twice in 18 days, as the Wildcats come to Cole Dec. 11. Prior to the game, Williams received a plaque from university president Dan Mote and athletic director Debbie Yow, commemorating his 400th coaching victory, over San Francisco. Tulane is 47-88 against Atlantic Coast Conference schools.

Terps in NIT

Opponent: No. 14 Kentucky

What: Preseason NIT semifinals

When: Wednesday, 6 or 8 p.m.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

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