Well-rested Terps make short work of American

Jumping to 12-2 lead, UM never looks back in its first game in 12 days

Maryland 81 American 55

December 24, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- The Maryland men's basketball team had 12 days to prepare for last night's game against American University, but it took less than 20 minutes for the No. 16 Terps to put the Eagles behind them.

Maryland (8-2) held American (3-7) to 17 points in the first half and cruised to an 81-55 win before a surprisingly large and festive holiday crowd that featured several versions of Santa Claus.

The difference was Maryland's defense, as the Terps had 13 steals and 10 blocked shots while American, a team that has struggled offensively and opened the season with six straight losses, turned the ball over 19 times and shot just 26 percent in the first half.

"Every team at our level plays games like this," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "You have to win these games because when you get into the ACC, obviously it's going to be very tough. If you can look at some things, great."

The lopsided score gave Williams another opportunity to look at his point guard situation. Although Williams has said he has been pleased with how quickly junior D.J. Strawberry has learned the position, he has also acknowledged that the former forward has struggled at times.

En route to a 43-17 halftime lead, Williams inserted junior-college transfer Parrish Brown to run the offense while Strawberry was used as a third guard with senior Chris McCray. Strawberry finished with nine points and four assists in 28 minutes.

"D.J. was OK," Williams said. "I have high standards for D.J. He's a great gamer. When it comes time to play a big game, you pick D.J. if you're picking sides. But there are times when D.J. kind of judges what he perceives to be out there, and he gets in a little bit of trouble. I think he learned some things tonight, hopefully."

Brown, who had four assists, a career-high six points and three steals in 14 minutes, said he is much more comfortable in the offense and is getting a lot of repetitions at practice.

"I'm just playing now," he said. "The first game I was doing a lot of thinking."

Maryland had not played a game since its Dec. 11 upset of then-No. 6-ranked Boston College. Williams said the offense seemed a little rusty, as the Terps missed their first three layups.

Still, Maryland used six straight free throws to take a 12-2 lead it wouldn't relinquish. McCray and Nik Caner-Medley scored 12 points each in the first half and finished with 17. Ekene Ibekwe added 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Maryland out-rebounded American 52-31.

"No matter if you beat a team by 40 or by two, it still goes in one column," McCray said. "As long as we keep winning and we can get through this stretch, then we'll start worrying about the ACC."

Ibekwe, Caner-Medley and senior forward Travis Garrison - all starters - were still in the game with five minutes remaining and a 72-46 lead.

"Coaches are supposed to improve players," Williams said. "I'll never let up. You see the game, but you don't see me talking to them after the game in the locker room or in the office, or putting my arm around them or anything like that. There's a lot of things that go on in terms of development of players I don't talk about very often."

Eventually, everyone on Maryland's roster received playing time. Not everyone, though, stayed to see it.

The crowd began to file out quickly when a timeout was called with 9:11 remaining, and Maryland held a safe 65-38 lead. Maryland maintained a 20-point lead for the bulk of the second half and led by as many as 31 points with 3:25 left to play.

The Terps entered the game averaging 84.6 points, compared with American's 64. The athletic mismatch was illustrated by Caner-Medley's block in the first quarter, which he batted down like a volleyball spike and sent flying into the stands. And the tip of American point guard Derrick Mercer's head seemed to come just short of Strawberry's chin.

Still, it didn't stop Williams' face from turning Maryland red as his team turned the ball over. The Terps finished with 18 turnovers but compensated with 27 fast-break points.

Williams began his coaching career at American (1978-1982), where he led the Eagles to back-to-back 20-win seasons, two postseason appearances and the 1981 East Coast Conference title.

"I have a lot of respect for American," Williams said. "I might never have become a head coach if I didn't get the job there. I don't get any satisfaction out of beating American U."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Delaware State @No. 16 Maryland Wednesday, 8 p.m., Ch. 54, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

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