Maryland's Irish eyes smile, 72-67

Terps burst to lead, hold on minus Morris to defeat Notre Dame

Miller gets `fire back'

Forward, other starters all hit double figures

November 27, 1999|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Before he gave thanks on Thursday, Gary Williams talked about a few improvements he would like to see in his Maryland men's basketball team. One involved a tendency to start slow that he wanted to stop in November, and the other was the timid play of sophomore forward Danny Miller.

Williams hit the daily double last night at Madison Square Garden, as the Terps rolled to a 13-2 lead on Notre Dame behind Miller, expanded it to 16 points early in the second half, then held off a Fighting Irish rally for a 72-67 win in the consolation game of the Preseason National Invitation Tournament.

Miller's best game of the young season allowed No. 24 Maryland (4-1) to put all five starters in double figures, and the Terps needed that balance, because they played the last 1: 07 without preseason All-America forward Terence Morris.

"This is a young team, and we're learning how to play with a lead, just like we're learning how to come from behind," Williams said. "They're all new experiences. As you saw, we were a little up and down tonight. We played great defense for a while and ran good offense for a while, but it wasn't there for 40 minutes."

Maryland never led Kentucky in the semifinals, but it never trailed Notre Dame (3-2). The Terps' bulge widened to 51-35 on a three-pointer by Juan Dixon with 16: 17 left, but then their offensive motion stagnated; they couldn't locate Notre Dame's three-point shooters through a maze of screens, and 10 minutes later, the Fighting Irish were within two points.

First-year coach Matt Doherty's team got within 66-65 on a pair of free throws by sophomore forward Troy Murphy with 2: 20 left. Dixon fed Morris for a lay-in, and Miller made the first of two free throws. Morris then departed with his fifth foul on a questionable call, but Murphy, finally rid of his nemesis, missed both free throws.

A turnover by freshman point guard Steve Blake and a Harold Swanagan put-back trimmed the difference to 69-67, but Dixon made two free throws with 19.3 seconds left, and both Mike Mardesich and Lonny Baxter gobbled up one last three-try by Notre Dame.

The fact that Maryland survived Morris' absence boosted a group that notched its first win outside of Cole Field House and was a confidence-builder heading into Tuesday's annual appearance at the Baltimore Arena, against No. 23 Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten challenge.

"It's big that we held on without Terence," Dixon said. "He was the guy who hit the big shots last year. It's unfortunate he wasn't there at the end, but we had some other people come through."

Miller jump-started Maryland with a pair of three-pointers in the first four minutes, when he matched his season total for field goals beyond the shooting arc. He had a season-high 12 points and cooled off shooting guard Martin Ingelsby after he hit two early threes. Miller was credited with only four rebounds, but the last came with 3: 50 left and bought the wobbly Terps some time.

"He [Miller] really came out hungry," Williams said. "It was great to see the fire back in him, because that was the difference. I think he got more emotional, and he played quicker than he's played. I think the emotion had a lot to do with it. Hopefully, he's back where he was [last season]."

Sophomore center Baxter's play was impeccable, as he again avoided foul trouble and went 36 minutes. He collected 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting and 14 rebounds, a combination that landed him a spot on the all-tournament team.

"I think we did a decent job trying to contain Morris and Dixon," Doherty said, "but I'll tell you what, Baxter is a load, both literally and figuratively."

Dixon was 3-for-11 from the field, but he was 3-for-7 beyond the arc and got eight of his 11 points in the second half. Blake fell into some traps near the end of a 35-minute stint, but he also had three three-pointers.

The pundits will proclaim that the Morris-Murphy matchup went in Notre Dame's favor, but most of Murphy's 25 points came when he was marked by someone else. Morris blocked Murphy three times on one possession, and finished with six blocks, tying the tournament four-game record of 17.

Morris also had six assists against a team that paid him close attention. Which was prettier: a pass Morris skipped along the baseline that set up a three by Dixon that made it 58-47, or the no-look feed that led to a Baxter dunk and a 65-61 lead with 4: 13 left?

Maryland's ball movement was such that 13 of its 15 first-half baskets were assisted, and Miller could have been given one on an outlet pass that Baxter's footwork turned into a three-point play. Five possessions into the second half, the Terps' field-goal percentage was .576, but then they had just three baskets over the next 11 minutes.

Even without Morris at the end, they finished just fine.

"If your best player is not in there, you can't fold, and we didn't fold," Williams said. "This certainly was big."

Next for Terps

Opponent: No. 23 Iowa

When: Tuesday, 7: 30 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Arena

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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