COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland coach Gary Williams has said repeatedly this year that each team takes on its own identity.
This squad apparently has two - one for each half.
For the fourth time this season, Maryland had to pull itself out of a first-half deficit that resulted from a sluggish start. After trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half last night against Minnesota, the Terps came out of the locker room and started a 15-1 run en route to an 83-66 win over the Golden Gophers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before 17,950 at Comcast Center.
It was a comeback that Williams said he didn't think last year's team would be capable of.
"We're a different team," he said. "That's not putting it on one guy or anything, we went through some things last year I think we all grew from. ... I just like these guys. The chemistry is unbelievable."
In his first start of the season, senior forward Travis Garrison scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He learned early yesterday he would replace sophomore James Gist, who had the stomach flu, along with center Ekene Ibekwe and Gini Chukura.
"I was ready," he said. "I was just waiting for Coach to call my name."
Maryland improved to 5-1, its best start since the 2001-2002 season, when the Terps won the national championship. Their lone loss was to then-eighth-ranked Gonzaga in Maui. The Terps are now 4-3 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and remain undefeated against Minnesota (2-2).
Minnesota was without its injured starting guard, Vincent Greer, and the Gophers also lost their head coach quickly in the second half when Dan Monson was ejected after two technical fouls. Monson was at halfcourt, trying to call a timeout in the midst of Maryland's opening run, and threw his suit jacket on the court in frustration as the game continued and Garrison immediately scored off a steal.
"That's not something you plan on happening," said Williams, noting he's been "tossed" before. "I always worry about that because the team for the rest of that game seems to rally. I was trying to tell them during that timeout to get ready for a run. Referees obviously don't want to throw coaches, and when they do I think they feel bad. Some calls might be different after that."
Almost everything, though, seemed to go Maryland's way. Senior guard Chris McCray was sent to the free-throw line and made three of four to put the Terps ahead 51-43 with 17:34 remaining. With 9:31 left to play, they had extended their lead to 19 points.
Garrison said the team felt the momentum swing its way when Monson left the court, wishing Williams "good luck" on his way.
"I knew we were going to get it [done], it was just a matter of when," Garrison said. "We had confidence, we just had to do a lot of things to turn it around, like get rebounds, box guys out and finish on the inside."
Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry drove in for a layup and drew a foul, and he completed the three-point play to give Maryland the lead, 46-43, with 17:40 remaining. Maryland went on to make seven of its next nine free throws to take a 51-43 lead.
It wasn't until the second half, though, that Maryland's offense started clicking. The same thing happened in all three games at last week's Maui Invitational, but the only team Maryland couldn't make a comeback against was Gonzaga.
The Terps made just three of their first 10 field-goal attempts, and were out-rebounded 21-8 in the first half. Minnesota shot 58.6 percent in that time.
"The defensive end of the court usually dictates how well you're playing," Williams said. "We didn't play great defense early and to Minnesota's credit, they came out and took it at us and we didn't respond.
"I take that personally, like they're attacking the heart of our team," he said. "We can't have anybody do that."
With Greer out, Minnesota looked to guard Adam Boone to help compensate. Boone scored three consecutive three-pointers in about a two-minute span that put the Golden Gophers ahead 26-11 with 9:03 remaining in the first half. It was Maryland's biggest deficit to date.
Senior forward Nik Caner Medley scored all of Maryland's points in a 7-2 run that started at the 6:36 mark and pulled Maryland within five with 4:20 remaining. He scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half. His three-point play with 2:50 left in the first half cut Maryland's deficit to 36-32, but that's as close as the Terps would get in the first half.
Maryland went to the locker room trailing 42-36.
"I think we proved we're a pretty resilient team, but you don't want to put yourself down 15 and expect to come back every time," Williams said. "It's just not going to happen."
No. 23 Maryland vs. No. 19 George Washington Monday, 9 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM