- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

A 2-3 made Maryland 4-1.

The Terrapins stumbled for the first time when Gonzaga’s 2-3 zone defense rattled their inside-first offense. Maryland couldn’t counter outside as the No.17 Bulldogs steadily pulled away for an 82-68 victory in the BB&T; Classic yesterday before 13,609 at MCI Center.

Gonzaga (5-1) meets George Washington (5-1), a 70-64 winner over West Virginia, for the tournament championship today. Maryland (4-1) plays West Virginia (2-2) in the consolation.

The Terps’ offense never flowed underneath yesterday, and its outside shooting was colder than the District sidewalks. Maryland made just four of 20 3-pointers compared with Gonzaga’s 13 of 23. The Terps also hit only 14 of 27 free throws, and their bench was outscored 29-12.

“We have to play a certain way — aggressive,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “We’ll see how we react to this. It’s part of the process of growing up. We have to stay tough. You can’t get down from one game, and you can’t get too high from one game. We can be a good team if we keep working hard. The ability is there. … I told [players] we probably weren’t going to go undefeated this year, so I was right.”

Said guard Chris McCray: “It was definitely a wakeup call.”

Maryland’s offense typically channels through center Jamar Smith, who paced four straight victories with double-doubles. However, Smith had very few good chances this time, getting just 13 points and seven rebounds. Forward Nik Caner-Medley led Maryland with 16 points and McCray had 12, but the offense lost its normal uptempo rhythm after taking a 14-7 lead.

“We weren’t continuing to build on what we do — rebound and run,” Caner-Medley said. “They shut us down, and we weren’t executing.”

The Terps also were outrebounded for the second time this season, 45-41. Maryland managed only 14 second-chance points and just eight on fastbreaks with six coming within 40 seconds late in the first half.

Getting outmuscled underneath was especially surprising considering 6-foot-10, 243-pound Gonzaga forward Ronny Turiaf missed the final 6:36 of the first half with a sprained left ankle. He managed only seven points and three rebounds in 23 minutes.

For Gonzaga, it was a rare East Coast victory that the Bulldogs hope will resonate when it comes time to be seeded in the NCAA tournament. About 50 fans traveled with the Spokane, Wash., team.

“We know we need to come out and prove ourselves, especially on the East Coast early in the season,” said Gonzaga guard Blake Stepp, who scored a game-high 27 points with 11 assists.

The Terps led 34-30 at halftime despite scoring only on Gilchrist’s 5-footer over a span of 10:14. But three straight fastbreaks suddenly gave Maryland a 32-30 lead with 1:01 remaining, and Gilchrist added a layup at the buzzer.

Maryland struggled underneath while Smith sat out the last 7:17 of the half with two fouls. Early foul woes forced Williams to use four freshmen briefly and 10 players overall.

However, Maryland’s defense forced 16 turnovers to fuel the offense in spurts and deny Gonzaga any momentum aside from an 11-2 run for a 30-25 lead with 2:37 remaining before intermission. Bulldogs coach Mark Few questioned his players’ toughness during halftime.

“I thought we were really soft,” he said. “They poked the ball away from us 10 or 11 times. I don’t think we were making decisions very quickly.”

The tempo quickened over the opening nine minutes of the second half with Gonzaga steadily pulling away for a 59-47 lead following 8-0 and 8-3 runs. The Bulldogs stretched it to 72-58 with 5:55 left and were never challenged late.

“We gave them the momentum at the start of the second half and didn’t get it back,” Williams said.

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