But the Maryland Terrapins, so ineffective early against a disciplined, deliberate Princeton team that worked the shot clock artfully and ran its offense flawlessly, showed the mettle of a No. 5 team by turning a 13-point halftime deficit into a 61-53 victory yesterday in the opening round of the seventh BB&T Classic.
They were a mess in the opening 20 minutes, making only seven baskets, missing nearly half of their free throws and committing 12 turnovers. They were determined to stop Princeton from getting open for three-point shots and backdoor layups - Tigers trademarks. Maryland could stop neither, as it fell behind at intermission 36-23, marking the lowest scoring in an opening half since the Terps managed 19 points in their NCAA tournament loss to St. John's in 1999.
"I think we kind of fell into their trap in the first half," said Maryland senior center Lonny Baxter, who led all players with 19 points and 12 rebounds, marking the 25th double double of his career.
Yet Princeton (1-4) could not prevent Maryland's size and talent from asserting itself in the second half, as the Terps stuffed the Tigers by allowing just 17 points.
Maryland gave up two points off only four second-half turnovers, worked the ball relentlessly inside, crushed Princeton on the offensive boards and finally was calm at the foul line. The Terps ended a glaring slump by making 14 of their last 17 free throws, as five different players contributed down the stretch. They made 22 of 33 overall, for a season-high of 66.7 percent.
Led by Baxter, who exploited Princeton center Konrad Wysocki's foul trouble, and senior guard Juan Dixon, who tied a tournament record with six steals and scored nine of his 14 points with perfect shooting at the foul line, the Terps outscored Princeton 33-11 over the game's final 14:18. Maryland finished the Tigers off with a 10-2 run, after working for nearly 35 minutes to take the lead it relinquished after scoring the game's opening basket.
"The key is to get more patient, even though you're trailing. That's a hard thing to get across when players are nervous," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team trailed at the break for the first time this season. "By halftime, the thought of losing was there. I wasn't sure we'd have enough time to come back. We're down by 13, and I know [Princeton] is going to take 25 seconds off the clock [with each possession].
"Princeton is no secret anymore. It's been a long time since they've been playing like that. To their credit, they were able to play the way they wanted to play in the first half. We were the best team in the second half, and we won the second half by more."
Maryland endured plenty of roadblocks. The Terps, who managed only three Baxter layups from the field in the game's first 11 minutes - Baxter also picked up three first-half fouls - came unglued by allowing a 19-9 Princeton run with a slew of turnovers over the final nine minutes of the first half.
Reserve forward Chris Wilcox, who scored six points and grabbed 11 rebounds, had some words with Williams on the bench after a sloppy stretch of play. And the Tigers punctuated their big opening when guard Ahmed El-Nokali hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to give Princeton a 36-23 lead with 30 seconds left in the half.
Princeton reached its high-water mark with a 42-28 lead with 14:18 left. Then, after Baxter scored on back-to-back layups and Dixon hit two free throws to make it 44-34, the 6-foot-8 Wysocki drew his fourth foul with 12:42 left. That left Baxter and Wilcox to roam more freely on the blocks, and it sparked Maryland for good at both ends of the floor.
After a tip-in by Wilcox, Drew Nicholas converted two free throws to pull Maryland to 44-38, and suddenly a new trend was born. Forward Tahj Holden followed another tip-in by Wilcox by making two free throws. Byron Mouton turned a midcourt steal into a layup, then made two foul shots to tie the game at 46 with 6:22 left. Nicholas gave Maryland its first lead since the opening seconds by hitting a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 51-49 with 4:42 left.
Wysocki's slam briefly tied the score at 51, but a short jumper by Wilcox gave the Terps the lead for good. Over the final three minutes, Dixon, Mouton and point guard Steve Blake made all six free throws to put Princeton away.
Princeton Min FG FT Reb A F Pt
Bechtold 32 2-8 0-0 6 2 4 4
Logan 39 5-14 5-6 8 4 3 15
Wysocki 25 6-9 0-0 4 2 4 13