Gary Williams didn't have to do a lot to motivate fifth-ranked Maryland. Valparaiso's reputation as a giant-killer in the NCAA tournament took care of that.
Playing with the business-like attitude of a Final Four contender, the Terrapins wore down their first-round opponent in the NCAA South Regional to advance with an 82-60 victory Thursday.
Laron Profit and Terence Morris each scored 18 points and Steve Francis had 15 points and seven assists for the second-seeded Terrapins (27-5), who looked like a team with everything it takes to win it all.
"It feels good to have one under your belt," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Playing in the first round is always a scary situation, especially playing a team like Valpo with their tradition and what they did last year."
Valpo stunned Mississippi 70-69 in the first round on Bryce Drew's buzzer-beating 3-pointer in 1998, then upset Florida State to make it to the round of 16, where the Crusaders lost to Rhode Island.
But there would be no repeat this time. A 9-0 run in the closing minutes of the first half built Maryland's lead to 12 and the Terrapins were never seriously threatened after that.
Valpo trimmed a 10-point halftime deficit to 50-44 before Francis and Juan Dixon hit 3-pointers during a 10-0 burst that put Maryland in control again. Another 10-0 spurt increased the lead 71-49 with seven minutes to go.
"Early in the game, Valpo was really competing with us," Williams said. "As the game went on, we were able to wear them down."
| Laron Profit ad Maryland cruised past Valpo. (AP)|
Maryland, playing in a school-record sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament under coach Gary Williams, tied its mark for victories in a season set 27 years ago.
Valpo, the only team in the nation that's won both its conference regular-season and tournament titles each of the past five years, finished with a 23-9 record.
Zoran Viskovic led the mid-continent Conference champions with 14 points and nine rebounds. Greg Tonagel and Jason Jenkins scored 10 apiece for the Crusaders, who dubbed themselves "Young Guns" this season because their starting lineup featured three freshmen.
"This game will help us become better basketball players," said Valpo coach Homer Drew. "With a young team, this game will be a nice game to grow on for next year."
The victory was the eighth in nine games for Maryland (27-5), which finished second in the ACC regular-season standings to top-ranked Duke.
Morris scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half. He also finished with 10 rebounds. Francis, meanwhile, made six of eight shots and dazzled fans with a number of slick passes, including an alley-oop that Profit snared for a one-handed, crowd-pleasing dunk late in the first half.
"We came out a little stale in the first half," said Francis, Maryland's leading scorer during the regular season. "In the second half, we got our pressure up."
Valpo begged to differ. Drew thought the Terrapins were impressive all afternoon.
"Give them credit," he said. "They made it into a 94-foot game."
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