WASHINGTON - The Maryland Terrapins had trouble shooting and handling the ball for glaring stretches last night, but still had too many weapons for the Connecticut Huskies to handle.
Sparked by its frontcourt of senior center Lonny Baxter and junior forward Tahj Holden, No. 3 Maryland over came the less experienced and unranked Huskies with an impressive second half and won its second straight BB&T Classic, 77-65, before 14,813 at MCI Center.
The victory, Maryland's sixth straight, gave the Terps (6-1) their fourth BB&T crown in the tournament's seven-year history and their third championship in the past four seasons. Maryland also became the first back-to-back winner of the BB&T in its history.
And the Terps needed their big men to put down Connecticut, which gamely battled its own ball-handling and shooting misery. The Huskies fell behind early by a 21-7 count, used their defense and transition game to cut that margin to 36-34 at half time, then hit the wall - in the form of Baxter and Holden.
Baxter scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half on perfect 4-for-4 shooting, and added 10 rebounds to record his second straight double double and earn tournament MVP honors.
Holden, who played for much of the game in foul trouble on a night when reserve forward Chris Wilcox had the same problem, awakened from a season-long scoring slump to score a season-high 15 points, all in the second half. Holden recovered from an ineffective, 0-for-2 show in the first half by making all four of his shots from the field after halftime. Terps guard Juan Dixon added 16 points, six steals and five rebounds, but was plagued by six turnovers.
Baxter and Holden, who also combined to make 12 of 14 free throws, were in the thick of Maryland's 18-6 run at the start of the second half. They scored 14 of the Terrapins" points during that stretch, as Maryland took a 54-40 lead with 12:44 left and never led by fewer than seven points after that.
"It feels a lot better. It feels like I helped out." said Holden, who entered the game averaging just 4.7 points. "I just found myself open a lot in the second half. Coach [Gary Williams] tells us to shoot the ball with confidence. [The Huskies] were doubling down on Lonny big-time, and I let the game come to me."
"Tahj hasn't been shooting the ball well, and I noticed on tape he's been taking shots when he's covered and not shooting when he's open." said Williams, who loved the way the Terps responded at half time in each of their tournament victories.
The Terps trailed Princeton by 13 points at the break in Sunday's victory.
"We"re not going to quit, I know that." Williams said. "It was a little shaky at halftime. We just sucked it up at halftime on both nights. That's good to see."
The Terps overcame a 20-point night by Connecticut forward Caron Butler, were beaten by 10 on the boards and committed 15 turn overs. But Maryland also threw down the hammer on the younger Huskies by forcing 20 turnovers and stifling an offense that was averaging 92.7 points in its first three games.
Maryland owned the game's first eight minutes, which featured a slew of Connecticut turnovers, a technical foul on coach Jim Calhoun, and the Huskies" inability to make a basket.
Sparked by Baxter, Maryland bolted to an 11-2 lead. Baxter began his night by converting a three-point play, two free throws, and a layup after grabbing an offensive rebound. When Dixon completed the game-opening run with two free throws at the 15:35 mark, Connecticut had missed its first five shots, committed five turn overs and Calhoun had been whistled for coming onto the floor to argue a no-all.
It got worse for the Huskies, as the Terps extended their lead to 21-7 with 12:10 left. Maryland scored eight unanswered points, with four different players scoring, during that spurt.
But after Calhoun had burned his second timeout, Connecticut rebounded by forcing some Maryland turnovers and beating the Terps down the floor in transition. Butler awakened the Huskies with a steal and a three-point play. Taliek Brown then added a fast-break layup, and suddenly the Huskies were off on a 13-0 run. Brown finished it by stripping Dixon and making a transition layup to cut Maryland's lead to 21-20 with 7:48 left.
The Huskies missed two chances to take the lead. The Terps never lost the lead, but they did cooperate by missing shot after shot and turning the ball over repeatedly. By the time the half mercifully had ended, the teams had combined for 24 turnovers and only 10 assists.