COLLEGE PARK - The sights looked familiar at Cole Field House last night.
Guard Juan Dixon's shot was deadly. Point guard Steve Blake broke down the opposing defense repeatedly and found the open man. Center Lonny Baxter was his old, burly self in the paint. Forward Chris Wilcox rattled the rim with a handful of dunks.
And after disposing of the EA Sports All-Stars, 98-80, in its exhibition opener before an announced crowd of 10,612, Maryland must deal with the unfamiliar.
On Thursday, the Terps, ranked in the top three in numerous preseason polls and intent on returning to the Final Four, will open their real season at the earliest date in school history by facing Arizona in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. The winner of that game will play the Florida-Temple winner on Friday night.
The start of the season comes so soon that Maryland will play another exhibition in 10 days, before resuming the rest of its schedule.
"It's here. It's right around the corner. We've got to get to practice on Sunday and get after it," said Blake, who did a little bit of everything last night by scoring 14 points and collecting nine assists and eight rebounds. He also made nine of 10 free throws.
Baxter led the Terps with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Dixon scored 20 points, added eight assists and made two of four three-point attempts. Wilcox gave Maryland a spark with 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
Curtis Staples led the EA All-Stars with 20 points. He made six of his team's 10 three-pointers, which kept the All-Stars somewhat competitive. The All-Stars also battled Maryland impressively on the boards, grabbing 41 rebounds to Maryland's 45.
"I think we played well at times. At other times, we didn't play well. There wasn't much consistency out there. I think our rebounding is the thing that concerns me the most," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
"We got to play a lot of guys. The young guys (forward Ryan Randle, point guard Andre Collins, forward Mike Grinnon) were nervous. Hopefully, we'll learn from here and go on."
Williams experimented with a three-guard lineup occasionally, using Drew Nicholas (six points, five rebounds) in the third slot. He hinted that Holden might play in that spot next week, as well. Mostly, he watched the Terps counter their mistakes (25 turnovers) with younger and quicker legs and a defense that forced 32 turnovers and fed off its prime-time players.
The All-Stars used the three-pointer to keep things respectable in the first half, hitting seven of 13 attempts from beyond the arc. They made their best run at the Terps by scoring 10 unanswered points in a span of a little more than two minutes to cut a 19-7 Maryland lead to 19-17 with 11:40 left.
Much of the run was due to some shaky play by the Terps' reserves, who had trouble running the Maryland offense and defending the shots behind the line.
After nearly losing their lead, the Terps' first team re-established control. Baxter began to abuse the EA frontcourt of Will Cunningham and Nakiea Miller once again. Holden, who started the first half - while Wilcox started the second at power forward - made a couple of short bank shots, and Maryland extended its lead to 35-26 with 5:15 left in the half.
Maryland eased out to a 52-38 halftime advantage, as Dixon, Blake and Wilcox did their parts. Dixon, who scored the game's first six points and had 13 in the first half, buried a pair of 15-foot jumpers. Blake converted five of six free throws, and Wilcox chipped in a slam and a nifty, fast-break layup.
Only Staples, who hit three of his team's four three-pointers in the final seven minutes, kept Maryland from pulling far away.
Wilcox and Baxter then traded layups and dunks to account for a 8-0 run to open the second half, giving the Terps a 60-38 lead with 18:05 left in the game.
EA would get no closer than 69-54 with 11:40 left, after Staples made back-to-back three pointers.
EA SPORTS ALL-STARS-Cotton 6-10 7-9 19, Roberts 1-1 0-0 2, Cunningham 0-1 0-0 0, Winn 4-11 2-3 11, Frahm 3-13 3-3 11, Brooks 2-4 0-0 4, Staples 6-12 2-2 20, Peterson 1-6 0-0 3, Jackson 0-1 2-2 2, Miller 4-13 0-1 8. Totals 27-72 16-20 80.
MARYLAND-Mouton 2-7 2-2 6, Holden 3-7 0-0 6, Baxter 9-15 4-6 22, Dixon 6-9 6-7 20, Blake 2-6 9-10 14, McCall 2-2 0-0 4, Collins 0-1 0-0 0, Nicholas 2-4 2-2 6, Grinnon 0-1 0-0 0, Randle 0-3 4-8 4, Wilcox 8-11 0-2 16. Totals 34-66 27-37 98.
Half: Maryland, 52-38. 3-point goals: EASAS 10-29 (Staples 6-11, Frahm 2-9, Peterson 1-3, Winn 1-3, Cotton 0-1, Brooks 0-2); M 3-10 (Dixon 2-4, Blake 1-2, Grinnon 0-1, Holden 0-1, Nicholas 0-2). Rebounds: EASAS 41 (Miller 15); M 45 (Baxter 10). Assists: EASAS 10 (Winn 3); M 25 (Blake 9). Total fouls: EASAS 31, M 23. A: 10,612.