Inside track pays for Terps

Frontcourt play sparks 91-79 win over Virginia as Baxter scores 24

February 03, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland has discovered that the road back in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings is through the paint.

The Terps eschewed the perimeter and pounded it inside last night, and the result was a 91-79 victory over upstart Virginia before a sellout crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House. After an 0-3 start in the ACC, No. 25 Maryland has won four of its past five to climb to .500 in the conference.

Maryland (15-6, 4-4) attempted a season-high 38 free throws, and not all of them came after Virginia (15-6, 5-3) fell behind by 10 midway through the second half. Not coincidentally, the Terps attempted a season-low six three-pointers, following coach Gary Williams' mandate to get the ball inside against the smaller Cavaliers.

"We definitely got the message that we didn't get the ball inside when we lost at North Carolina," sophomore guard Juan Dixon said. "The big fellows weren't asking for the ball. They asked for it at Florida State and again tonight.

"That's the game plan for the rest of the season. Teams know it, and it's a question of whether they can stop it."

A four-game conference winning streak had made Virginia the surprise team in the ACC, but Maryland built a commanding lead in rebounds, recognized the Cavaliers' traps and had maybe its most efficient offensive performance of the season. After missing its first seven shots, Maryland was 29-for-44 (65.9 percent) the rest of the way.

It was Maryland's fifth straight win over Virginia, and the Terps' eighth straight at Cole over the Cavaliers.

Maryland got 24 points from sophomore center Lonny Baxter, and 18 points and 11 rebounds from ACC preseason Player of the Year Terence Morris. Juan Dixon had 19 points and six assists; Danny Miller had 14 points; and freshman point guard Steve Blake had six assists and another fine defensive job on a high-scoring guard, holding Donald Hand, Virginia's leading scorer, to five points.

Sophomore forward Chris Williams had 22 points for the Cavaliers.

Virginia coach Pete Gillen took his last timeout with 14: 26 left, without an antidote for the aggressive manner in which Maryland attacked the basket.

Maryland led from the time Baxter dunked for a 14-12 lead with 11: 02 left in the first half, but its cushion shrunk to 41-40 in the second minute of the second half. The Terps responded with a 14-7 run that pushed the spread up to 55-47 with 13: 52 left, and the Cavaliers never got closer than seven.

Mike Mardesich, who had maybe his best game off the bench in more than two years, had a put-back to get the Terps their first eight-point lead of the second half.

The Cavaliers were still eight down with nine minutes remaining, but Blake hit a huge jumper from the key as the shot clock wound down, and Baxter posted up for a 71-58 advantage.

Virginia hung around at 75-65 on two free throws by freshman wing Roger Mason, but the difference grew to 17 thanks to some ineffectual pressure by the Cavaliers. The closing minutes resembled a drill, with Maryland making 15 of its 26 shots in the second half.

Maryland had a 41-36 lead at the half, but Virginia scored the first four points out of the break while the Terps looked for their offensive bearings. Ball movement produced a dunk for Baxter; Dixon converted a neat catch in transition; and two Baxter free throws got the lead up to 47-40 with 17: 40 left.

The Terps missed their first seven shots, but Dixon opened a spurt of three baskets in less than a minute that built a 10-7 lead. The first move in the coaching chess game was a 3-2 zone by Williams, which Virginia couldn't solve for close to four minutes while the Terps moved out to an 18-12 lead.

Gillen countered with three-point specialist Keith Friel, who went downtown twice to help the Cavaliers close to 22-20. Morris had limped off midway through the half, but reserve center Mike Mardesich provided an offensive lift with six points in less than three minutes. His spinning move in the paint gave Maryland a 26-20 edge.

The lead got as big as 31-24 with 5: 05 left in the half, when freshman Drew Nicholas fed Miller.

Virginia tied it with seven unanswered points as Maryland stagnated for a few shaky possessions, but then the Terps remembered the lessons of the loss at North Carolina, when they were outscored 24-7 at the foul line. They attacked the rack and went on a 10-3 run, with Morris scoring off an entry pass and adding four free throws.

The Cavaliers would not allow Morris access to the basket early. His only points in the first 15 minutes came on a pair of three-pointers. Maryland took just one other shot beyond the arc in the first half.

Virginia must play at Duke tomorrow, and Maryland will try to continue its roll at home against North Carolina State on Sunday (4 p.m.).

"We started 0-3 and we could have quit," Williams said of the Terps lagging early in the ACC race. "Now it's just beginning. It's like the back nine of the Masters."

Next for Terps

Opponent: North Carolina State (15-4, 5-3 ACC)

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM),

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