Not that last night's 82-74 victory over No. 16 Temple in the consolation round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was easy, which is partly what made the feeling that much sweeter in an upbeat Maryland locker room, starting with coach Gary Williams.
Special sectionCollege basketball 2005-06 preview
Featuring previews for Maryland and all the state men's and women's teams.
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For the second straight night at Madison Square Garden, the Terps had to contend with a pesky, physical, matchup zone defense, which is a Temple trademark. But unlike the night before, Maryland shot the opposing defense full of holes with deadly outside shooting, pounded the ball inside smartly and did not lack any spring in its step around the boards.
Oh, how the Terps shot the ball. Senior guard Juan Dixon got Maryland rolling in the first half from the outside and finished with a team-high 25 points, featuring a 5-for-10 performance from three-point range. Junior point guard Steve Blake bounced back from a rough outing against Arizona by trumping a seven-turnover blemish with a blistering touch.
Blake missed one shot all night, going 6-for-7 overall, 4-for-5 from beyond the arc and 4-for-4 at the foul line in totaling 20 points, 15 of which came in the second half. Senior small forward Byron Mouton added 13 points by missing only one of five shots from the field.
In all, Maryland, which led for the entire second half after taking command with a 14-2 run to end the first, did what teams simply don't do against the Owls by making 59.1 percent of their attempts. That included an unconscious 63.2 percent (12-for-19) from three-point land.
And the Terps, whose poor free-throw shooting early kept them from possibly blowing the Owls away, regrouped to make their last 10 attempts at the line to blunt Temple's final comeback bid.
Point guard Lynn Greer personally gave the Owls a chance with a spectacular, 27-point show. Greer finished with a bang by making three consecutive three-point shots, the last of which pulled Temple to within 78-74 with 13.6 seconds left.
But the Terps, who had not begun a season 0-2 since 1962, were not about to be denied by some miracle. Not last night. In the process, they handed Williams his 450th career victory and his 243rd during his 13-year run at Maryland, tying him for second place with Bud Millikan.
"I think we understand as a team that our goal this year is to be consistent," said Dixon, recalling Maryland's 1-2 start and its midseason, 1-5 stumble a year ago. "Coach was upset after the Arizona game. He's trying for that not to happen again. This was good for us tonight. We showed a lot of character getting this win."
"Today was all about beating Temple. It had nothing to do with Arizona," junior forward Tahj Holden said.
Last night had much to do with Maryland's big men showing up on a night on which Williams stretched the roster by giving reserves Ryan Randle and Calvin McCall their first tastes of playing time this year.
Not long after the Terps staggered out of the gate and fell behind 10-2, McCall entered and promptly drilled a three-pointer to give them their first lead at 13-12 with 13:35 left.
Randle, the transfer from Allegany College, joined Holden and sophomore Chris Wilcox to man the blocks after senior center Lonny Baxter fell into foul trouble and eventually produced just seven points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
Against the huge front line of 6-10 Kevin Lyde (13 points, 10 rebounds) and 6-10 center Ron Rollerson, who is listed suspiciously at 295 pounds and fouled out with 9:12 left, the young threesome came in handy.
Maryland answered Temple's opening, 10-2 run with a 17-5 run to take a 22-15 lead, then got stung by sophomore guard Brian Polk, whose back-to-back threes spurred the Owls to a 30-25 lead.
After Wilcox started Maryland's awakening by making a free throw, Dixon took a nice feed from Wilcox and drilled a three to pull the Terps to within 30-29 at the 4:35 mark. Following a short bank shot by Lyde, Dixon hit his next three from the same spot to tie the score at 32, then hit a gorgeous turnaround jumper from the corner to stake Maryland to a 35-32 advantage with 2:05 left.
Temple called time, but Mouton kept Maryland's momentum humming by gathering a loose ball and sinking a short jumper in the lane. Maryland had a 39-32 halftime lead.
"Winning tonight was huge. It's great for our confidence," Blake said. "It would have been a long bus ride back if we had lost."