Win over Temple restores Terps' confidence

Williams glad to see UM bounce back after opening loss to Arizona

College Basketball

November 11, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- They are a veteran group that already has proved itself in the postseason heat of March, yet Friday night's 82-74 victory over Temple did wonders for a Maryland Terrapins team that needed to believe in itself once again.

The signs of Maryland's maturity stuck out in many ways. One night after losing in lackadaisical fashion against Arizona, which followed up by beating Florida to win the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic as the tournament's only unranked squad, the Terps rediscovered a sense of urgency their fiery coach wore on both nights, as he stalked the sideline in Madison Square Garden.

After Arizona frustrated them with a matchup zone and seemingly beat the Terps to every key rebound and every loose ball, Maryland refused to stand still against No. 16 Temple.

The Terps forced the issue, countering Temple's famed matchup zone by forcing an up-tempo pace and hitting the outside shots they missed so frequently 24 hours earlier. Their frontcourt hit the boards vigorously, even though its stalwart, senior center Lonny Baxter, watched much of the proceedings while sitting with foul trouble. They overcame a horrendous early showing at the foul line, making their final 12 free throws after missing 10 of their first 16 attempts. They took charges, dug deep into their bench to wear down the Owls, and never lost their composure.

And on a night when Temple point guard Lynn Greer was a scoring machine -- his 27-point effort, which included a 30-footer among his three late three-point baskets that kept the Owls within striking distance -- the Terps answered again. And again. To the tune of 59.1 percent shooting, including 63.2 percent from three-point range.

Senior guard Juan Dixon led the way with 25 points. Just as notable was junior point guard Steve Blake, who erased a bad night against Arizona point guard Jason Gardner by drilling the Owls for a career-high 20 points on near-perfect shooting. Blake missed only once while sinking four threes, four foul shots, seven attempts overall and burning Temple for 15 points in the second half.

All of which was enough to bring the first regular-season smile to coach Gary Williams' face.

"Every year, I don't care where you're ranked or who you have back [from the previous year], you've got to win against a good team. Then, you have confidence," said Williams, who should pass his former coach, Bud Millikan, to take over second place in school history with his 244th victory against American on Saturday.

"There are a lot of teams out there who are good and well-coached, but they're just not good enough to beat Temple. Shooting 59 percent against that defense is pretty good. It was intense out there. If you don't play that way against a John Chaney team, you don't win. We know we can win now."

The Terps avoided the school's first 0-2 start in 39 years, and are a virtual lock not to repeat last year's season-opening, 1-3 start. After playing the Nike Elite team in an exhibition at Cole Field House on Tuesday, Maryland will play host to American and Delaware State on back-to-back Saturdays, before facing visiting Illinois in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown on Nov. 27.

"We want to go on a straight road this year," said Dixon, who played through a sprained left ankle against Temple and finished the tournament with 46 points and nine assists and made 10 of 20 three-point shots. "We have a heck of a team, and we want to show it each and every night."

Said Blake: "We were all pretty down after the Arizona game. We knew we needed a victory to get excited about our season. That's what we did. Everyone's confidence is up right now."

The Terps were equally tough and resourceful on their second try. Instead of going with a seven-man rotation as he did against Arizona, Williams expanded the roster by introducing reserves Calvin McCall and Ryan Randle to the action.

McCall, who helped to form a three-guard alignment, hit a three-pointer that gave the Terps an early 13-12 lead against the Owls. Randle helped Maryland maintain a three-man rotation down low that included Tahj Holden and Chris Wilcox. With Baxter out of the game so much, the Terps needed that trio to perform. Randle contributed two points and three rebounds in his Division I debut.

"At first, I was shocked. That's my first time playing in Madison Square Garden. I've seen it on TV, and I thought one day I'm going to make it there," Randle said. "As soon as coach said get in there, all of my butterflies went away. I feel wonderful."

So did Holden and Wilcox, especially after coming up empty on the defensive boards in the opener. Friday night was a different story. They combined for 13 rebounds, including nine on the defensive end.

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