LAHAINA, Hawaii — One of the Maryland basketball team’s strengths is supposed to be the familiarity among the players, many of whom have played together for better than two seasons.
But for long stretches yesterday — particularly early and late — it was as if the Terrapins had met one another for the first time in the cramped locker room of the 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center.
As a result of 23 turnovers, many of the unforced variety, the Terps lost to eighth-ranked Gonzaga 88-76 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. The loss relegated Maryland to today’s dreaded early game against tournament host Chaminade, which lost to Michigan State 89-67.
“You can’t turn the ball over 23 times and expect to beat a team as good as Gonzaga,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams. “Certainly Gonzaga plays good defense. But when a team plays a zone, it doesn’t create turnovers. We just weren’t good enough with the ball. We just gave it away too many times.”
Gonzaga’s Big Three of preseason All-American forward Adam Morrison, Brazilian center J.P. Batista and willowy point guard Derek Raivio helped the Bulldogs improve their record to 2-0 and gain a berth opposite Michigan State in today’s semifinals. Morrison had 25 points and nine rebounds. Batista had 21 points, going 9-for-10 from the free throw line. Raivio contributed 24 points and four assists.
Maryland was led offensively by the backcourt tandem of Chris McCray (18 points) and D.J. Strawberry (16), but those same two combined for nine turnovers as the Terps fell to 1-1.
Gonzaga got off to a 26-17 lead with 8:03 remaining in the first half before Maryland went on a 15-3 run to take a 32-29 edge within less than six minutes. The Terps led 32-21 at intermission and increased that advantage to 41-35 as Ekene Ibekwe threw down a pair of thundering dunks. Maryland outscored Gonzaga 24-9 during a span of about 10 minutes.
But Maryland was again bitten by the turnover bug, allowing Gonzaga to regain control of the game and take the lead for good at 62-60 on an inside basket by Batista with 8:58 remaining.
“Gonzaga showed a lot of poise in the second half,” Williams said. “They did a better job of taking care of the ball than we did. We had good looks for some good shooters, but we couldn’t convert. We have to win games like this if we’re going to be considered a good team.”
Williams said he had absolutely no misgivings accepting an invitation to play in a tournament featuring six former national champions in the eight-team field.
“You can schedule three games against teams you can beat by 30 or you can come here and play against the best,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. We just have to be good enough to win these kinds of games.”