COLLEGE PARK -- They were rested, but were the Terps ready?
Playing for the first time in 16 days, No. 14 Maryland didn't completely awake from a long winter's nap until the last two minutes, when it overcame an upset bid by George Mason and posted a 69-66 victory over the Patriots before a sellout crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House.
Maryland's 70th straight nonconference win at home was in extreme doubt for much of the night. The Terps (9-2) went into the last three minutes down by two, but they limited George Mason to a single basket over a crucial four-minute stretch, freshman point guard Steve Blake snapped them out of their own offensive slump and Terence Morris hit a go-ahead free throw.
"We have a tendency to take some teams lightly, and I don't know why," sophomore guard Juan Dixon said. "We don't have the older guys, who can talk to everyone about things like that."
It was Maryland's third straight win since it lost unexpectedly to George Washington, and the game resembled an earlier struggle against a big fish from a small Division I pond, the Dec. 7 overtime win over Winthrop.
George Mason (5-5) went to the NCAA tournament last season, and still revolves around Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year George Evans, but this is a team that struggled to beat Coppin State and UMBC, which will bring a 4-4 record to Cole Thursday night.
The Mason camp felt that if it had one edge on Maryland, it was at center, but sophomore Lonny Baxter had better production than Evans, and junior Mike Mardesich made some mammoth plays off the bench. With 20 points and 13 rebounds, Baxter had his fifth double double. Evans, a 28-year-old Army veteran, had 17 points and 11 rebounds, but did not score in the last 11 minutes.
"If you had both of those guys, you would be pretty good," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
Morris had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Dixon scored 13.
The Patriots took leads of 60-59 on Erik Herring's three-pointer and 62-59 on a pair of free throws by Jon Larranaga, the coach's son. Maryland's half-court game had become an immense struggle by then, as the Terps had just one basket over seven minutes.
Blake hit a pull-up jumper with 2: 17 left, and after Dixon scored in transition, Herring forced one last tie on a baseline runner with 1: 40 remaining. Morris put the Terps ahead for good with a free throw 17 seconds later, and after a miss by Herring, Mardesich built the cushion to 67-64 with 59 seconds left.
Larranaga missed a three, but the Patriots got another chance to tie after Blake rushed himself into a turnover. Maryland denied George Mason a solid long-range chance, and Larranaga turned it over with eight seconds left, leading to the free throw by Morris.
The Patriots prospered beyond the three-point arc, and led 40-39 on Keith Holdan's three-pointer in the second minute of the second half. Baxter's hustle on the offensive glass fueled a 10-2 run that gave Maryland a 49-42 lead, but George Mason coolly responded with seven straight points that forced a tie with 11: 22 left.
The teams traded baskets over the next five minutes, as Larranaga's put-back tied it at 57 with 6: 32 remaining.
Miller's first shot -- and the Terps' only successful three-pointer, completed a 7-0 spurt that gave Maryland a 28-23 lead, but George Mason answered every Maryland run except the last one.
The game marked the addition of Calvin McCall to Maryland's roster. A redshirt freshman, McCall quarterbacked the Terps' football team to a 5-2 start, but his season and Maryland's bowl hopes were ended by a knee injury. He began practicing with the basketball team Dec. 14. Williams wanted to get him in during the last minute of the first half, but couldn't get a stoppage.
The Terps have just nine scholarship players available, and Williams suited up only 10 for the first 10 games. Backcourt depth has been his biggest concern, but Blake, Dixon and reserve Drew Nicholas had plenty of time to catch their breath, as the game was Maryland's first since its Dec. 11 conquest of Kentucky.
"He's feeling his way through the offense," Williams said of McCall. "I tell you what. Tonight, he would have ran the offense as well as some of our guys did."
Next for Terps
Site: Cole Field House, College Park
When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)