- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

His face growing redder as the first half progressed, Gary Williams was stunned by the unabashed sluggishness of his Maryland basketball team. Finally he screamed, “Go, GO!” to anyone who would listen Wednesday night at Comcast Center.

The Terrapins simply did not respond to his exhortations.

Maryland could have exited nonconference play by escaping the sort of loss that haunted it a season ago. Instead, the Terps frittered away a double-digit lead and watched Morgan State escape with a 66-65 victory.

Reggie Holmes scored 25 points for Morgan State, which snapped Maryland’s 35-game winning streak against in-state opponents. It was the Terps’ first such loss since a setback against Coppin State in 1989, Williams’ first season.

This one might have hurt more given that Maryland (11-3) was poised to put away the Bears (6-8) early in the second half. But glaring, game-long problems - 21 turnovers, lousy 3-point shooting and inept offensive execution - helped nullify a 14-point lead.

“We didn’t run our offense properly,” Williams said. “Once we got the lead there in the second half, we settled for jump shots. When you shoot 1-for-14 from the 3-point line, that’s a pretty good indication maybe you should be doing something else with the basketball.”

The Terps hoisted ill-advised shot after ill-advised shot after building a 54-40 lead aided by Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman’s technical foul. But the Bears, who started five Maryland natives for the first time all season, gradually eroded the deficit as the Terps made just three shots in the final 12 minutes.

Morgan State finally took the lead at 61-59 with 2:15 remaining on Jermaine Bolden’s 3-pointer, prompting Williams to burn his final timeout. Maryland twice tied it, but Holmes made it 66-63 with a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left.

The Terps had several chances to tie or take the lead. Landon Milbourne’s free throw try after a basket with 29 seconds left was nullified because Greivis Vasquez (19 points) attempted to tip in the ball when it was still on the cylinder. Later, Eric Hayes’ baseline floater went wide of the basket, and Vasquez’s halfcourt heave at the buzzer sailed over the backboard.

“[The victory] means a lot,” said Holmes, who played at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. “I’ve been watching Maryland all my life. And to finally beat them, I’ll tell my son I beat Maryland when he grows up.”

It’s a tale the Terps will hear all too often the rest of the season, only from wary observers rather than the junior Bears guard. Maryland almost avoided a damaging nonconference loss that would be mentioned for the next couple months, only to stumble against a neighbor less than an hour up Interstate 95.

Morgan State might be a favorite in the MEAC, and it might have won at DePaul last month. But this loss - with echoes of last season’s home setbacks against American and Ohio - only further revealed some of Maryland’s flaws.

Lingering concerns about Maryland’s halfcourt offense were not quashed after the Terps repeatedly struggled in settled situations. The Maryland bench managed a meager two points. And even though Dave Neal (a career-high 18 points) was effective inside at times, a vanishing perimeter game is threatening to ruin the Terps.

“There’s no excuses,” said Vasquez, who shot 5-for-21. “It’s me not being the leader I have to be at times. I’m trying to do a lot. I didn’t pass the ball a lot, and I tried to shoot too much, and that’s not my game.”

Nor was the entire night a reflection of what Maryland must be now that conference play beckons with Saturday’s visit by Georgia Tech. The Terps’ passing was lethargic, and their hustle to get back on defense was nearly nonexistent at times.

This is a team, Williams would no doubt note, that beat Michigan and Michigan State earlier in the season. But the Terps’ latest effort is a result sure to be mentioned for the rest of the season, much to Williams’ chagrin.

“It’s a shame, but at the same time you can’t dwell on it,” Williams said. “There’s 16 league games coming up, and we have to come in [Thursday] and practice. That’s the big thing now. This won’t be talked about. It’ll all be about Georgia Tech.”

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