No slow start this time.
The Maryland Terrapins avoided the early sluggishness that marked their first two games and opened their final season at Cole Field House yesterday with an 83-53 thumping of American before 13,485.
On a day when the school’s first Final Four banner was unfurled in a pregame ceremony and coach Gary Williams moved into second place on the program’s all-time victory list, Maryland looked inspired and buoyed by the crowd.
Despite a subpar shooting day, the No. 2 Terps eased past the Eagles by forcing a frenetic pace that had the visitors rushing passes and shots. Maryland, playing aggressively but unselfishly, jumped on the Eagles from the beginning, bolting to a 10-0 lead in the first two minutes. American drew within 12-6 on two transition baskets, but after an officials’ timeout, the Terps regrouped and surged with 15 straight points.
Lonny Baxter had six and Juan Dixon five over the next 2:20 as Maryland stretched its lead to 27-6 and effectively put away the Eagles. With 11:03 left in the first half, the Terps had more field goals (13) than American did attempts (10). Maryland led 48-23 at the break.
“We wanted to come out and set the tone early,” Dixon said. “We practiced well the last two days, and Coach has really been getting on guys about getting in shape and playing hard for 40 minutes.”
Baxter had a game-high 25 points, Dixon added 22 and Byron Mouton had 10 rebounds in a well-rounded Maryland effort. Eight of the nine Terps who played in the first half scored, paced by Baxter’s 15.
When the Terps weren’t racing downcourt in transition, American tried to play a man-to-man defense. Baxter would have none of it, muscling around Keith Gray, Patrick Doctor and Joe Casper for easy baskets, particularly on inbound plays. About the only thing the Terps didn’t do well was shoot free throws, though they made up for 3-for-10 shooting in the first half by going 10-for-13 in the second.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well,” Williams said of his team’s 41 percent field goal shooting, “yet we were running good offense.”
American didn’t help itself any. The Eagles committed four turnovers in their first seven possessions, and clearly looked overwhelmed by the Cole crowd. They eventually settled down, playing the Terps nearly even in the second half with the help of a zone defense, but the poor start did them in.
“[Maryland] was looking to come up with the knockout right out of the game, and we didn’t handle it very well,” American coach Jeff Jones said. “As much as we talked about it, we were maybe a little intimidated.”
The intimidation had worn off much too late by the second half, when the Eagles’ Brian Williams came off the bench to score 12 of his team-high 15 points. Doctor added 13 on 5-for-16 shooting.
With a sizable halftime lead, Williams had a chance to work on some different strategies and lineups in the second half. He called off the fullcourt press to see if the Terps could keep up their intensity while playing halfcourt defense. Drew Nicholas played several minutes at point guard, continuing to gain experience at the position as Steve Blake’s primary backup. Junior college transfer Ryan Randle made the most of his seven minutes, scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds.
“This was the first game of the real regular season, and we had to come out strong and punish them,” Mouton said.