MINNEAPOLIS -- Danny Miller went on injured reserve, but Maryland got well in the first round of the NCAA tournament last night.
Third-seeded in the Midwest Regional, the Terps were en route to a first-class annihilation of Iona before they eased up and recorded a 74-59 victory in front of 20,127 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Freshman Tahj Holden started in place of Miller, while Terence Morris moved to the wing and turned in one of the best postseason performances of his career.
Maryland (25-9) will meet UCLA tomorrow night in a second-round game, and Miller talked as if he would be available when the Terps bid for their third straight Sweet 16 berth. The sophomore forward sprained his left ankle Sunday in the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Miller played only nine minutes in that 13-point loss to No. 1 Duke, when Maryland tried to implement a new rotation on the fly. Two days of practice with an altered look was more than enough to manhandle 14th-seeded Iona, as the Terps led 23-4 after eight minutes and enjoyed a 60-32 bulge with 10 minutes remaining.
Like so many favorites who won their first-round games, Maryland acquiesced after acquiring a big cushion, as it then went nearly five minutes without a point. Coach Gary Williams noted that a team that doesn't have a scholarship senior also lacks a killer instinct.
"We saw that Kentucky had a tough time earlier today, and we wanted to come out strong," all-ACC guard Juan Dixon said, in reference to the Wild cats needing double overtime to subdue St. Bonaventure. "We got kind of sloppy and lazy at the end, but we recovered."
Tariq Kirksay, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year who's 6-foot-6, had a game-high 24 points, but only four in the first half, when the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Holden roughed him up.
"The game plan was to front him [Kirksay] in the post," Holden said. "All I tried to do was stay in front of him. If he doesn't have the ball, he can't score. I tried to make my job easy. He's a good forward, but I consider myself a good defender."
Ditto for Morris, who limited the Gaels' other top scoring threat, Dyree Wilson, to eight points on 2-for-6 shooting. When the Terps experienced first-half foul trouble, Williams went to his 3-2 zone, and the sight of the 6-9 Morris out top contributed to the Gaels' 24.1 percent (7-for-29) shooting in the first half. Iona (20-11) averaged 79.5 points before it was held to a season scoring low by Maryland.
"They did an excellent job scouting us," said Iona coach Jeff Ruland, whose veteran core had taken Syracuse to the wire in the first round in 1998. "I thought the fact that we were here two years ago would help us. But there's no question, it looked to me like we were a little bit in awe of our surroundings."
Morris alone doubled the Gaels' point total in the first eight minutes, when they had four and he had eight. In 13 previous postseason games, the junior from Frederick's Thomas Johnson High had averaged 11.3 points. He had a postseason career high of 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting, and 12 rebounds matched his postseason high.
"I came in with one of my goals as just being aggressive," said Morris, who had his team-high 12th double double of the season. "It felt good to have my teammates feed off of me in the first half."
Holden's ability to fill in at power forward allowed Morris to move to the small forward spot.
"I was proud of the way we started the game, and the second half, because it's been a distraction with Danny," Williams said.
"We assumed Danny wasn't going to play, and prepared that way. Tahj stepping in was the key. Terence is pretty flexible, but the key was, who was going to step in for Danny? Tahj did a very good job."
Holden didn't have an impressive statistical line, but he did play a career-high 30 minutes. Dixon, the sophomore from Calvert Hall, again bettered his average with 20 points. Lonny Baxter chipped in 12 points and nine rebounds, and freshman point guard Steve Blake finished with seven of the Terps' 21 turnovers but got them going early.
Iona banked its upset bid on its ability to score in bunches, but Maryland had runs of 12-0 and 11-0 in the first half, and two 9-0 spurts in the second.
The Terps spotted the Gaels the first basket, then reeled off 12 straight points in less than two minutes and never looked back. Ruland shed his blazer and switched defenses in an attempt to slow Maryland, which buried Iona under putbacks. The Terps had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, and the 49-32 rebounding bulge was their second-biggest of the season.
The Terps liked their first run so much, they nearly duplicated it after the Gaels' second basket, as Maryland scored another 11 unanswered points and took that commanding 23-4 lead on a three-pointer by Morris from the left wing against a soft zone.
Iona came out as cold as the chilly Minnesota weather -- it missed 14 of its first 16 shots -- but finally went on an 8-0 spurt. The Gaels got within single digits once in the final 35 minutes, when Kirksay's basket made it 28-19, but Maryland moved its lead back up to 15 points and had a 38-25 cushion at the half.
Baxter, Blake and Dixon were all hit with their second fouls before the 15-minute mark, but even without Miller, the Terps had much too much for the Gaels.
The 9-0 runs early in the second half left Iona reeling again, and a Dixon jumper off the dribble made it 60-32 with 10: 29 left. The Terps then bogged down and stopped attacking at both ends.
"We played some great minutes," Williams said, "but we screw up every once in a while."