Terps escape with 84-81 win in European debut

UM wins in Italy despite tough crowd, veteran foe

August 20, 2004|By Eric J. Lyman | Eric J. Lyman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

VEROLI, Italy - The Palazzetto dello Sport will never be confused with the Smith Center or Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the tiny arena did a decent impression of its American cousins yesterday when the Maryland men's basketball team came to town for the unofficial opening of the Terps' 2004-05 campaign.

Maryland had only five practices before facing Veroli, a rising star in Italy's third-highest professional division. But the Terps prevailed, 84-81, before a near-capacity crowd in an arena that holds 1,900 fans, including standing room at both ends.

Veroli is the least prestigious team the Terps will face during their five-game, 12-day swing through Italy and Switzerland. But Veroli is experienced - the team's average age is 28, and one starter is 42 and in his 21st professional season - and it showed early on as the hosts raced to an early 16-4 lead against the rusty Terps and tied the game at 73 with 3:05 to play.

But the Terps held on as a desperation three-point shot by Veroli's lone foreign import - Argentine Manuel Carrozo - fell short at the buzzer.

Rising junior Nik Caner-Medley, still facing disciplinary action following his arrest last month on a disorderly conduct charge near his home in Maine, was the top scorer for Maryland with 18 points. Travis Garrison, who will also be a junior this year, added 17. Veroli's Carrozo led all scorers with 22.

For Maryland, the main goal was to get more experience for a team that improved drastically during the 2003-04 campaign, when it was one of the youngest teams in the NCAA. Experience it got, though afterward most of the players complained about not being accustomed to European rules on traveling, holding, and blocking.

"I spent the whole summer working on my footwork, and every time I tried to use what I had been working on, I got a whistle for traveling," Caner-Medley said. "I'll get more used to these rules with each game, but the real benefit of this kind of game is getting used to playing in a hostile environment. This was a classic away game, with a hostile crowd and aggressive opponents. ... That's the sort of experience that will help us with the ACC."

In Europe, fans don't boo when displeased, they whistle. And the mostly partisan crowd whistled loudly during most of the game - especially at the U.S. custom of arguing calls. Coach Gary Williams stomped and shouted to contest nearly every foul and violation, even though the two officials working the game did not speak English.

"The way I look at it, arguing is part of the game," Williams said. "You aren't going to change their minds, but maybe you can make them think twice."

Before the game, the Maryland players, staff, and some 110 fans who made the trip from the U.S. were treated like VIPs, arriving in Veroli, a town of 20,000 residents about 50 miles southeast of Rome, with a police escort. They were greeted by the town's mayor and other city officials and were given gifts and a tour of the medieval town.

"Look, I've got nothing but respect for the Maryland team." Veroli coach Massimo Bernadardi said. "I am very proud of my players for the way they played tough, but the only reason we were able to stay in the game was because we know the European rules and because we were trying to defend our home court. If I had a team with the pure athletic skills Maryland has, they'd be able to get used to European rules in a month or two and then we'd win an Italian championship in the next league up from ours. No question."

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