Strawberry lends hand for Terps

Guard's career-high 12 assists instrumental as UM pulls away

Maryland 88, Nicholls State 56


College Park -- There wasn't one drop of sweat running down Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry's head as he walked off the court at Comcast Center after yesterday's 88-56 drubbing of Nicholls State.

After a seemingly effortless performance in which he unknowingly collected a career-high 12 assists - with no turnovers - and scored 12 points for the first double double of the season, Strawberry was no longer needed, and he took a seat to watch the rest of the rout.

"Every game, I get more comfortable at the point guard position and more confident in myself," said Strawberry, who missed the final 18 games of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. "I missed a lot of games last year. I'm just starting to get back and feel more confident playing basketball again and go out there and have fun."

Strawberry accidentally hit his teammate, senior guard Chris McCray, in the mouth during pre-game warm-ups and busted his lip, but it didn't stop McCray from scoring a team-high 20. In fact, McCray might not have done it without Strawberry's help.

Three of McCray's four three-pointers came off assists from Strawberry, as did his two-handed dunk in the first half that put Maryland ahead 10-5.

"He's getting better every day," said McCray, who made four of five shots from three-point range. "He's been handling the pressure well. He's just a basketball player. He's one of those guys that does everything. As long as we've got him on our team and he's healthy, we should go a long way."

No. 23 Maryland (4-1) looked a little sluggish at times in the first half and went to the locker room with a 39-30 edge over a team whose only win this season was against UMES. The Terps quickly distanced themselves, though, in the second half with a 16-0 run during which Ekene Ibekwe scored nine of his 15 points.

"I just wanted to get everybody fired up - my teammates and the crowd," said Ibekwe, who made seven of 10 from the field. "I was being real active on the press. That's something my team needs, somebody to be real active on the court, show a presence, and that's what happened."

Maryland coach Gary Williams said he will not look back on this game or review any film of it. The focus immediately shifted to Wednesday's game against Minnesota in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

So what does Maryland take, then, from a win over a program that had one victory in the Southland Conference last season and came to College Park having allowed an average of 99 points in three losses?

"You take a win," said senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who had 16 points and seven rebounds. "They add up. When we come here to play, we come here to win. That's what it all comes down to. Two weeks from now, the most important thing is going to be that we won this game."

In the first five minutes of the game, Maryland forced five turnovers and sophomore forward James Gist made one of his five blocks, but the Terps allowed Nicholls State to hang around. The Colonels (1-4) began to chip away at Maryland's 16-point lead at the 10:37 mark, when they used an 11-2 run to trail 31-24 with about six minutes remaining.

"We had some guys today who were not really ready to play," Williams said. " ... The basic thing is, it's a game, you have a chance to play, and you get ready to play. We weren't tough enough to do that today."

There were all kinds of reasons, so many excuses for another slow start by Maryland against a lesser opponent yesterday:

There was a sparse holiday crowd at Comcast Center.

The lights didn't go off when they were supposed to during the introductions.

And, of course, the team was two days removed from an overnight flight home from the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii.

"I don't want to make Hawaii an excuse the way we came out," said Ibekwe, who was wearing his free tournament T-shirt in the locker room.

McCray agreed.

"We know we have to step it up," McCray said. "Good teams aren't going to let you get back in it once you get down 10, 11. We have to do a better job of starting the game off."

Minnesota@No. 23 Maryland Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

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