LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. | In one of the more emphatic stunners of the early season, Maryland scorched No. 5 Michigan State 80-62 Thursday in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic, banishing the event's highest-ranked team to the losers bracket.
The victory was Maryland's first over a ranked team since the Terrapins (4-0) took down then-unbeaten and No. 1 North Carolina (82-80) in Chapel Hill midway through last season.
"This is a real statement win for us," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after his team shot nearly 50 percent from the field in beating Tom Izzo's Spartans (2-1). "As far as people underrating us, it's just one win. It was a great win against a top-five team in the country. But until teams have played a good number of games and started to accumulate wins, you can't have a legitimate Top 25."
The Terps face the winner of the late game between No. 9 Gonzaga and Oklahoma State at 5:30 p.m. Friday for the right to advance to Sunday's championship game.
As usual, junior guard Greivis Vasquez (17 points, six assists) provided the cornerstone for the Maryland attack. But it was the shots that the 6-foot-6 dervish from Caracas, Venezuela, didn't take that propelled the Terps to victory. The Spartans' game plan was obvious: Take away Vasquez and force his somewhat inexperienced supporting cast to carry Maryland. To that end, Michigan State's Travis Walton spent the entire night glued to Vasquez with a second Spartans player always waiting within arm's reach to double-team.
Brilliantly manipulating the strategy instead of falling into the trap of forcing his game, Vasquez routinely drew a second Michigan State defender before whipping a pass to an open teammate. The result was a series of open looks for Terps from all over the floor. And the star guard's running mates didn't disappoint when he earned them uncontested shots.
Senior forward Dave Neal drilled all three of his 3-point attempts en route to a career-high 17 points. Sophomore guard Adrian Bowie dropped three of his four attempts from deep to finish with 13 points. And the Terps sprinted away from the heavily favored Spartans in a 29-9 second-half run that turned a 40-37 Michigan State lead just after intermission into a 66-49 Maryland romp with 7:29 remaining.
"Greivis is a great player," Williams said after Vasquez moved within five points of becoming the 47th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. "He really knows the game. He's been double-teamed before, and he knows the way to make a team pay. He did a good job of not forcing it."
As well as Maryland played on both ends of the floor, the Spartans imploded after leading scorer Raymar Morgan found himself strapped in early foul trouble. The bruising, 6-8 junior entered the game averaging 21.5 points per game but picked up his third foul with 7:46 remaining in the first half and finished with just four points on four shots.
Without its focal point on the floor, the Michigan State offense looked disjointed, committing 15 turnovers and rarely exploiting its size advantage underneath in senior center Marquise Gray (seven points). But even without Morgan or solid game plans on either end of the floor, the Spartans might have kept the game close had they not endured such a miserable night from the free throw line (12-for-27).
"When Morgan went out, we had four freshmen in there, and we're not a top-five or a top-10 or a top-30 team with that," Izzo said. "But I don't think there's any excuses for the lapses in defense or the free throw shooting. I don't think in my career I've ever seen anything like that. We just missed one after another. ... It's very disappointing."
Not only does the victory give a huge glow of confidence to a Maryland program expected to finish at the bottom of the ACC pack, but it also puts them in the same side of the bracket as No. 21 Georgetown. Should both teams win or both lose Friday, they would meet in Sunday's final round, facing each other for the first time since Maryland's 76-66 victory in the Sweet 16 of the 2001 NCAA tournament.