RALEIGH, N.C. - The Terps know they need Juan Dixon to make a serious run at a national championship, but 12th-ranked Maryland did not require his services yesterday while dismantling North Carolina State before 17,428 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
Dixon, the remarkable junior shooting guard who leads the team in scoring, suffered a bruised tailbone in Saturday's practice and called it quits after playing 11 uncomfortable, first-half minutes. Dixon then turned into an extra coach and watched as his teammates, led by Terence Morris and Lonny Baxter and supported by an excellent bench, rolled to a 75-61 victory.
Maryland (14-4, 5-1) won its 13th game in 14 tries, has beaten the Wolfpack 18 out of 22 times, and should move back into the Top 10 for the first time in two months. And the Terps next will take aim at second-ranked Duke on Saturday night at sold-out Cole Field House.
The Terps are in third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where they trail Duke and North Carolina by a half game. Dixon is expected to be at full strength Saturday.
Maryland, which led by as many as 21 points in the second half yesterday, warmed up impressively for the Blue Devils by shoving aside the Wolfpack (9-7, 1-4) with almost casual ease.
Without Dixon, who matched a season low with two points, the Terps turned to an off-guard rotation of Byron Mouton, Danny Miller and Drew Nicholas. The offense barely missed a beat, burning the Wolfpack's full-court press repeatedly with long passes and getting 22 points from the bench. Miller led the way with seven points, seven assists and no turnovers. Backup center Mike Mardesich had six points.
A 20-point, 10-rebound effort from Morris - his third double double against an ACC team this season - put a major hurting on N.C. State. Baxter dominated the low post with 18 points, beating up a variety of Wolfpack defenders along the way.
"Everybody talks about the big three," said Mouton, referring to Dixon, Baxter and Morris, the team's three preseason All-America choices. "We've got a deep team."
How strong was Maryland? Terps coach Gary Williams is no fan of zone defenses. The Terps don't even practice running them every day. But with Dixon out and Baxter, Mouton and point guard Steve Blake in foul trouble about seven minutes into the second half, Maryland went to a 3-2 alignment. The defense turned into a brick wall. The Wolfpack's brick-shooting hands also played a role, as N.C. State hit only 10 of 33 shots after halftime, including a 3-for-15 stain from three-point range."[The Terps] were the dominant team this afternoon. We hung in there for a while, but we struggled offensively. It was our inability to score that was the difference," said N.C. State coach Herb Sendek, whose job appears to be in jeopardy.
N.C. State could have used guard Archie Miller, a top three-point specialist who missed his third straight game with a lower leg stress fracture and won't be back for three weeks. After getting eight quick points from guard Anthony Grundy, he made only three of 11 attempts in the second half. Forward Kenny Inge made one basket and had three points.
"Juan is a definitely a big part of this team, but on any night, anybody can step up and contribute," said Nicholas, the backup guard who added five points and four rebounds. "We never took it like we lost our leading scorer and everybody needs to play great. We just thought we needed to play a little harder and execute in the second half."
Said Williams: "Juan has gotten a lot of attention and has scored a lot of points. But we have some good players. They have pride, and they want to prove they can play. They had the attitude that one guy being out of the lineup wasn't going to affect the way we play, although I wouldn't want to play too long without [Dixon]."
Maryland, which also protected its lead by making 13 of 17 free throws in the second half, took out the Wolfpack with two decisive runs.
A 12-5 spurt early in the second half, during which the Terps scored on six straight possessions, featured several lobs over N.C. State's full-court press that ended with layups or slams. Mouton followed a layup with a jam to make it 50-38 with 13:22 left. Miller's jam and a fast-break layup by Baxter completed the run and gave Maryland a 54-41 lead.
The Terps followed that with a 16-8 run. Morris scored seven points during that phase, including his third three-pointer, which buried the Wolfpack, 67-49, with 5:34 left. Nicholas capped the run with a three-pointer, making it 70-49 with 4:21 to go. Ballgame.
Dixon, who suffered the back injury after trying to draw a charge from Mouton in practice, limped noticeably in the early going. After failing to retrieve two loose balls, he said he felt the end of his day was near. Then, he fell backward and aggravated the bruise.
"There's no meat back there. It's all bone," said Dixon, listed at 6 feet 3 and 164 pounds. "I'll be ready to go on Saturday. I wasn't feeling up to it today. The whole bench played well. The second team gives the first team problems in practice."
Maryland will try to knock off a Duke team that has won an ACC-record 22 consecutive road games.
"I think we've got the snowball kind of rolling right now," Nicholas said. "Duke is going to get our best shot."