SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - If last night was indeed a statement game for the Maryland basketball team, the Terrapins had plenty to say.
Before 5,926 at the Springfield Civic Center and a national television audience, the 13th-ranked Terps pounded No. 25 Memphis, 84-61, in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
Searching to put together a dominant 40 minutes, and show they are a national title contender against a ranked opponent, the Terps (3-0) came about as close to a perfect game as they could get at this juncture of the season. And this time it was against a less forgiving opponent in the Tigers (4-2).
"We weren't concerned too much with Memphis," said sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry, who had eight points and three steals. "We knew if we played our game, we can beat any team in the country. I thought we put together 40 minutes and the score speaks for itself."
Coach Gary Williams has bemoaned the Terps' man-to-man defense, but last night, Maryland, clearly the quicker team, put on a defensive clinic, getting easy basket after easy basket because of its press and sucking the life out of the Tigers early.
Maryland led 37-29 after a solid first half, but by the midpoint of the second half, the Terps' advantage was 69-41. At the 6:23 mark, the Terps took their biggest lead of the night - 79-47 - when freshman James Gist (seven points) threw down an alley-oop pass from John Gilchrist.
"If we play with that intensity, I think we can beat any team in the country," said junior guard Chris McCray, who had 16 points to tie backcourt mate Gilchrist for team-high honors.
How bad did things get for Memphis?
At one point in the second half, Tigers coach John Calipari covered his eyes with his hands, not watching to watch. And Maryland's lead hadn't even swelled into the 30s yet.
"Right now, we're at low tide," said Calipari, whose team was led by Rodney Carney's 23 points and Sean Banks' 12 points and 10 rebounds. But Banks, the national Freshman of the Year in one publication last year, shot just 3-for-11 from the field. "Our boat is on the rocks right now."
Maryland outscored Memphis 32-6 in points off turnovers, 60-20 in the paint and 24-4 on the fast break. The Terps also got 24 bench points to Memphis' five.
As Maryland shot a blistering 54.5 percent from the field in the second half with a steady dose of layups and dunks, Memphis shot just 27.3 percent and 29.1 percent for the game. The Tigers also committed 21 turnovers.
"We pretty much ran them off the court," said junior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who had 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
Maryland started the second half on a 15-5 run and that was just the beginning. Another 10-0 Terps run moments later staked them to a 65-41 lead and sent some fans in mostly a pro-Terp Civic Center scurrying for the exits.
That run included a steal and dunk by Gilchrist, who spent the better part of the night tormenting Tigers' freshman point guard Darius Washington, a McDonald's All-American.
Gilchrist, who looked frustrated and passive at times through the Terps first two games, when the team just turned it on for short stretches, engineered another big-time performance, conjuring up memories from his run through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The game's most valuable player had 16 points to go along with 10 rebounds (tying Travis Garrison for team-high honors), five steals and seven assists, and just one turnover. He exited the game at the 4:22 mark, but not before acknowledging the crowd and hugging Williams.
"That was as complete of a point-guard performance as you'll find," said Williams, who used to play the position himself.
In one stretch, which started with a Gilchrist steal and finish that gave the Terps' a 61-41 lead, Maryland had a layup or dunk on five straight possessions. The last basket was a breakaway slam by Strawberry.
His team trailing by 24, Calipari called a timeout and Strawberry and Gilchrist traded chest bumps.
"That's the point when we knew we had them," said Gilchrist. "They weren't getting back on defense and we could tell they were tired."
The lead continued to swell as Williams emptied his bench.
"For this time of year, that was a great effort," said Williams. "But we want to build off that. We don't want the high point of our season to be in November."
Next for Maryland
Matchup: No. 13 Maryland (2-0) vs. No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) in ACC/Big Ten Challenge
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
When: Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)