- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2000

The first round of the NCAA tournament is always nervous time, especially for the higher seeds. Two or three of them always get beat right off the bat, and there's never any telling who the upset victims will be. A funny thing happened yesterday afternoon, though: All the favored teams won. There were plenty of close calls Purdue over Dayton (62-61), Auburn over Creighton (72-69), LSU over Southeast Missouri State (64-61), Kentucky over St. Bonaventure (85-80, in two overtimes) but no Cinderella candidates had surfaced.

So if you played last night, as Maryland did, you had to be thinking just a teensy bit: Will we be the top seed that's toppled? Let's face it, the Terps' opponent, Iona, was no pushover. The Gaels had won 14 of 15 and, what's more, always seem to give a good account of themselves in the tournament. (The scores of their past four NCAA games, all losses: 74-71, 58-57, 59-56 and 63-61.) If any team in the field was owed an upset, it was Iona.

To make matters worse, Iona had not one but two starters who wore headbands: Tariq Kirksay and Dyree Wilson. (And late in the game, the Gaels brought a headband off the bench, 5-foot-7 guard Vinny Mazza.)

Headbands are always a sign of trouble in the first round of the NCAA tournament. You just never know what you're going to get out of a player with a headband. If he's wearing his headband too tight, he might shoot 3-for-21. But if his headband is applying just the right pressure to his cranium, he might come out, swish the first jumper he puts up, and in golfing parlance proceed to make everything he looks at.

Sure enough, Kirksay came out last night and swished the first jumper he put up: Iona 2, Maryland 0. But then the Terps went off on a 23-2 run that's right, 23-2 to put the fear of God (or at least the ACC) into the Gaels. Lonny Baxter scored on a tip-in. Juan Dixon drained a 3. Baxter followed his own miss. Dixon popped in a shortie from the baseline off the break. Terence Morris scored on a tip-in of his own and then added a free throw.

And the run was barely half-done.

By this time, Iona coach Jeff Ruland was standing in front of his bench, arms folded across his chest, trying to glare his men into playing better. I have to admit Ruland is an imposing figure on the sideline. I certainly wouldn't want the 6-11 guy, a former Bruise Brother, glaring down at me. Especially when he's wearing black from mustache to toe, like Ruland was last night: black shirt (the jacket quickly came off), black slacks, black shoes. Batman doesn't wear that much black. Zorro doesn't wear that much black. Paladin didn't wear that much black. No wonder he was dubbed McNasty during his Bullets days. (Or is it McFilthy? He has been gone so long I can't remember.)

Anyway, you get the picture. Maryland put on a clinic last night a clinic on "How to Properly Dispatch a First-Round Opponent." The Terps led by 13 (38-25) at the half, stretched it to 27 (58-31) eight minutes into the second half and finally settled for a 74-59 victory. You don't expect that of a team that's heavy with sophomores and freshmen, but the Terps have shown repeatedly this season that they're wise beyond their years. They rarely take a bad shot, they're always willing to make the extra pass, they have a point guard who understands perfectly his role (let other people score) and they help each other out on defense. What more could a coach ask for?

By getting Iona under control so quickly, Maryland no doubt saved some energy it likely will need in Round 2, particularly if it has to face UCLA. The Bruins are an athletic bunch that likes to run, run, run, and it helps to have a full tank of gas when you play them.

But Maryland obviously wasn't thinking beyond the task at hand last night which is why the Gaels never had a chance. The Terps were too quick, too ready, too together, too good. Morris was especially assertive, racking up 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone. And as the senior member of the starting five (though only a junior), he should have been the one showing the way. If Terence can keep playing like that, Williams might finally break through that Sweet 16 glass ceiling.

Usually, finishing in second place in the ACC means something. But with only three teams from the conference making the NCAAs this year, there was some question about exactly where Maryland fell in college basketball's pecking order. After witnessing last night's no-nonsense performance, though, there's only one conclusion you can draw: These Terps got game. Serious game.

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