Terps emerge, top G. Mason, 79-64

Patriots are pesky again, but Caner-Medley's 23 help solve 2nd-half deficit

November 26, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Gary Williams has said repeatedly that the Maryland Terrapins are too much of a mystery to assume that victory is at hand, regardless of the opponent.

Last night at Comcast Center, the Terps made their coach look like a basketball prophet for an extended period of tension against visiting George Mason, which pushed Maryland for the first 30 minutes of an entertaining contest.

In the end, Maryland's interior strength, defensive tenacity and winning pedigree were enough to push the Terps to a hard-earned, 79-64 victory before 17,950.

The Terps (2-0) had to sweat big time for this one against a neighboring opponent that has been a thorn in Maryland's side in the past. George Mason, a member of the Patriot League, stayed in hot pursuit of the Terps throughout the first half, and actually took a 47-43 lead with 17:24 left in the contest.

But over the last 11 minutes, the Terps, with sparks from sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley, senior center Jamar Smith and guards John Gilchrist and D.J. Strawberry, turned back a spirited upset effort by the Patriots.

Caner-Medley finished with a career-high 23 points. Smith earned his second double double of the season with 19 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs. Strawberry scored all nine of his points and recorded all four of his steals in the second half. And Gilchrist, who yielded his starting spot at the point to junior Andre Collins after an unspecified violation of team rules, scored 11 points, all in the second half.

"It was a great win for us. We had to dig down. I'm starting to like these guys. They compete like that in practice," said Williams, who watched Maryland struggle mightily in the early going while trying to puncture George Mason's 2-3 zone and contain the Patriots' shooters.

"Mason obviously was ready to play, especially when they went to the zone. It bothered us. It made us less aggressive. We had to work our way into the game. It could be typical of this team. We might play in spurts. We were tough tonight. We did some really good things to score when we had to."

The Patriots, now 0-6 against the Terps, have brought out the grittiness in Maryland on previous nights. In their two meetings before last night, the Terps had won by three points apiece.

Last night, George Mason threw its quick, three-guard and four-guard alignments at Maryland with abandon, turning its shooters loose and even pressing the Terps early in a game that started with a blistering pace. Then, the Patriots settled into their zone defense and tried to go toe-to-toe with Maryland with backup forward Jai Lewis, who led George Mason with 17 points and eight rebounds.

George Mason got an early lift from guard Terry Reynolds (10 points), then flirted with a stunning victory.

First, the Patriots answered a 13-4 Maryland run in the first half by closing to 41-38 at the half, thanks to the shooting of guards Mark Davis (15 points) and Lamar Butler (eight points). Then, Butler put the Patriots on top, 45-43, by making a pair of free throws two minutes into the second half. Nearly a minute later, guard Raoul Heinen banked in a shot off a fast break, and the crowd got nervous.

"We go through stretches where we're playing well and we just think we're going to continue playing well. It's the effort we need that makes us play well," Caner-Medley said. "You have to respect George Mason. They came in and gave us a real good run. But once we started clicking in the second half and got the lead back, there was no doubt in my mind we were going to win."

Once the Terps regained the upper hand, George Mason was out of gas and out of options. Gilchrist and Smith owned a 12-3 spurt that pushed Maryland back in front, 55-50, with 12:25 left. Then, Strawberry, a smooth, sinewy 6-foot-5 freshman who played 18 minutes, put his quickness to work and wrecked the George Mason offense with steals and fast-break baskets.

Strawberry scored seven of Maryland's next 12 points. Suddenly, with 7:37 left, the Terps were in front 67-56 and the Patriots were done.

It was enough to make the Terps smile after a night in which they missed 12 of 15 three-point shots and made only eight trips to the free-throw line. By dominating the boards and forcing 13 second-half turnovers, Maryland had survived.

"We just haven't been shooting well, but we'll start hitting shots," said Strawberry, who also had four assists and four rebounds. "I just wanted to make something happen for the team. We just had this feeling that we couldn't lose this game."

Next for Terps

Matchup: Hofstra (1-2) vs. Maryland (2-0)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

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