Terps spend 8 minutes at hard labor

March 17, 2000|By John Eisenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Thirty-two minutes of garbage time.

That's an appropriate title for the Maryland Terrapins' easy win over Iona in their first-round NCAA tournament game last night at the Metrodome.

The Terps wiped out the outmanned Gaels in the game's first eight minutes, building a 23-4 lead that pretty much settled the outcome.

With 32 minutes to go, the only mystery left unanswered was whether Iona coach Jeff Ruland would reach down to the end of his bench and put in Vinny Mazza, a junior walk-on who moonlights as a nightclub dancer.

Mazza got in with a minute left in the Terps' 74-59 win, only to find Maryland's starters still on the court because coach Gary Williams was unhappy with the way his team alternately dozed and rallied with a big lead.

"We kind of stopped what we were doing in the last 10 minutes," Williams said. "But all you do, you yell at them while it's happening and then you walk in the locker room and say, `I really like you guys.' "

He should after the way the Terps started -- faster than any Maryland team featuring Joe Smith or Steve Francis ever started a first-round NCAA game.

The young Terps seemed to get the message after spending the day watching other games on television and seeing underdogs push favored Syracuse and Kentucky to the brink of elimination.

"They noticed," Williams said. "It was real quiet in the bus coming over, and real quiet in the locker room before the game. I think we were really ready to play."

After Iona scored the first basket, the Terps scored 12 points in a row and 23 of the next 25. Ruland's jacket was off before the first television timeout, less than four minutes into the game. Things were going badly.

"Instead of Cinderella, we looked more like Tinkerbell there at the start," Ruland said.

The run started with defense, as is often the case with Maryland. The Gaels couldn't get any open looks with defenders pressing them and jumping into the passing lanes, and they missed the few open shots they had.

The early going was the start of a rough night for Iona's Dyree Wilson, who had scored 27 points in the Gaels' Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship game, but last night was limited to two baskets, eight points and six turnovers.

"I challenged our guys to push their offense away from the basket, and they responded," Williams said. "Wilson was a guy we really keyed on. We had Terence Morris on him a lot, and Terence did a nice job."

At the other end, Juan Dixon hit a jumper to make it 9-2, and point guard Steve Blake led a pair of fast breaks that pushed the lead to 14-4. Then Morris (22 points, 12 rebounds) took over, scoring on a follow shot, hitting two free throws and completing the 23-4 run with a three-pointer from the wing.

The Terps had given the neutral crowd at the Metrodome a classic lesson in how to put an upset-minded underdog in its place early in a first-round game.

It's called a first-round knockout in boxing; putting an end to a match almost as soon as it begins.

"We were really, really confident coming into the game, but that start, man, we were deflated after that," Iona's Tariq Kirksay said. "I think our confidence level really dropped. The start was the whole game, basically. If we had kept it closer, with the way we played later, it could have been a game. But we had too much ground to make up, especially against a good team."

The Gaels did settle down and start playing after the slow start. They went on an 8-0 run and pulled within nine at 28-19 with 6: 41 left in the first half, bringing to life a crowd looking for anything to cheer about.

But the Terps recovered before things got interesting, with Blake hitting a couple of jumpers before halftime and Lonny Baxter banking in a short runner from the lane to start a nine-point run early in the second half. Dixon's jumper from the baseline pushed the lead all the way out to 28 points, 60-32, with 10 minutes to go.

The Gaels kept plugging away and cut a sizable chunk out of the lead down the stretch. With the Terps fast asleep on offense, the Gaels cut the lead to 20, then 16, then all the way down to 12 with two minutes left.

"We played about half the game, or three-quarters. Got kind of lazy and sloppy. But we finished it," said Dixon, who had 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

In the end, the Gaels actually won the 32-minute garbage time period, 55-51, raising an interesting question: If Iona had shot any better than 24 percent in the first half, would the game have been a lot closer?

Probably not, given the Terps' 49-32 rebounding advantage. The Gaels just couldn't consistently compete inside against Baxter and Morris.

"That's a real good league they play in, the ACC," Ruland said. "And they were in control the whole way. I think we were a little in awe of our surroundings at first. And they did a terrific job of doing what they had to do as the favorite. They started so fast."

First-round clout

Under Gary Williams, Maryland has usually been an opening-round demon in the NCAA tournament, winning five times in seven appearances. The Terps' five victories have been by an average margin of 16.4 points; their two losses by an average margin of 10.5. How they've fared:

Yr. Opponent Result

'00 Iona W, 74-59

'99 Valparaiso W, 82-60

'98 Utah State W, 82-68

'97 Coll. Charleston L, 75-66

'96 Santa Clara L, 91-79

'95 Gonzaga W, 87-63

'94 Saint Louis W, 74-67

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