SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The University of Massachusetts basketball team may have to give serious thought to switching from the Atlantic 10 to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season after its second impressive victory over an ACC team this season.
The ninth-ranked Minutemen (9-1) added to their Preseason NIT upset of defending champion and then-No. 1 North Carolina by whipping Maryland, 94-80, last night in the Adbow's Hall of Fame Classic championship game.
Playing before a partisan capacity crowd of 8,492 at the Springfield Civic Center, UMass used a 14-0 run in the first half to build a 34-21 lead and was never headed.
The Terps (7-2), led by freshman sensation Joe Smith (22 points, seven rebounds) rallied repeatedly, and trailed by only 74-67 with seven minutes left.
But tournament MVP Mike Williams (25 points, seven rebounds) combined with forward Lou Roe (30 points, eight rebounds) and Dana Dingle to score nine straight points and put the game away.
The widely publicized "family feud" between Baltimore cousins Donta Bright (UMass) and Keith Booth (Maryland), former Dunbar High teammates, was hardly worth mentioning.
Booth fouled out midway through the second half after making only a pair of free throws. Bright was held to four points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.
But they proved only minor players last night. The battle was won on the inside, with UMass out-rebounding Maryland 42-30, and Roe grabbing eight offensive rebounds.
"That's what really hurt us down the stretch," said Terps coach Gary Williams. "When UMass missed free throws, they got a lot of offensive rebounds and put-backs."
But Williams was not too discouraged.
"This was a particularly good learning experience for our freshmen -- Smith and Booth," he said. "We played at Oklahoma and Georgetown [USAir Arena], but this was the toughest place we've had to play."
Maryland was most successful in a transition game, breaking down UMass' pressing defense in the first half. But the Terps' offense stalled when forced to play a half-court game, with only Smith's dominance inside proving a reliable weapon.
UMass coach John Calipari paid tribute to Smith, using him as an example of how to play a low-post game for his own promising freshman, Marcus Camby (nine points, four blocks).
"I believe Maryland is only a year and a few players away from being a Final Four team," Calipari said. "Smith is a legitimate star. The only way we could stop him was fouling him."
Only sophomore point guard Duane Simpkins, who scored a career-high 18 points, provided significant offensive help for Smith as early foul problems forced Williams to play his reserves more than usual.
"This was a good test to prepare us for ACC competition," said pTC Williams, whose Terps open conference play against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Tuesday night.
Both teams came out playing aggressive defense, pressuring the ball from baseline to baseline.
The frantic pace in the first five minutes seemed to favor Maryland. Exree Hipp jammed home a lob pass and Simpkins and Smith scored consecutive baskets to gain a 13-8 cushion. Smith continued to carry the Terps' offense, scoring from inside and outside for a 17-12 edge.
But with the officials allowing little contact inside -- they called three straight offensive fouls -- UMass surged. Smith was benched with his second foul at the 10-minute mark and UMass took advantage of three straight Terps turnovers to forge ahead 28-21.
The game began to take on signs of a possible blowout when the margin mushroomed to 34-21 after a breakaway layup by Williams completed the 14-0 run. But the Terps answered with eight straight points to close to 34-29.
Smith spearheaded another Terps spurt, hitting two shots to close to 36-33. UMass built its lead back to 45-37 before Hipp ended the first half with a three-pointer.
The big disparity in the first-half statistics came at the free-throw line, where UMass converted 14 of 16 and Maryland made five of eight.
The Terps, who committed 15 first-half turnovers, continued to have ball-handling woes at the start of the second half and UMass stretched its lead to 52-44. Maryland answered with five straight, but again UMass rebuilt the lead.
Booth fouled out with 9:49 left and things quickly got worse for the Terps. A three-pointer by Williams put the Minutemen up 69-58, and after Simpkins made a three-point play, Roe drew a roar from UMass supporters by slamming home a half-court pass for 71-61. The Terps never threatened again.