In end, Terps cruise

UM starts slowly, then pulls away in opener

Maryland 79 North Florida 50

November 12, 2007|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- If the axiom that it's not how you start that counts but how you finish has any validity, then the Maryland men's basketball team might be in for a bumpy early ride and a comparatively smooth end come March, assuming last night's season opener is an accurate gauge.

With seven freshmen on the roster, an all-sophomore backcourt and without their leading returning scorer and rebounder, senior James Gist, the Terps spent a big chunk of the first half of last night's game against North Florida throwing the ball around Comcast Center and missing shots from all over the court, including the foul line.

However, by the midway point of the second half, the Terps found their composure, coasting to a 79-50 win in the opening round of the CBE Classic.

It had been 14 years, dating to when current assistant coach Keith Booth was a freshman, since Maryland coach Gary Williams, in his 19th season opener with the Terps, started a lineup with so little experience before last night.

And with Gist and sophomore Landon Milbourne serving one-game suspensions for playing in an unapproved competition in April in Ocean City, Williams had a ready-made excuse for the sloppy first half, in which the Terps (1-0) committed 14 turnovers and shot just 38 percent.

"No excuses," Williams said. "In my mind, we probably would have played the same way. We just weren't in control of the game in the first half. Maybe we would have been better with James and Landon out there, but I never give my team room to feel sorry for themselves. It's easy to find an excuse all the time. I'd rather just say that's the way we played the first half, and it's we. It's our team, it's my coaching, it's their playing. Whatever went into that, we didn't play well the first half."

In the second half, Maryland found its composure, committing just six turnovers and shooting 65 percent from the field to earn its way into tonight's regional final against Hampton, which beat Tulsa, 72-55, in the opener.

"I don't think we should turn the ball over like that," sophomore guard Eric Hayes said. "Maybe we were a little nervous, the first-game jitters and all. But in the second half, we took care of the ball."

Hayes, who scored a career-high 15 points, also tied a career high with eight assists, getting special praise from Williams for helping settle the Terps after their shaky first half.

"He [Hayes] got measured against [former point guard] Steve Blake as soon as he came here, but people were measuring Blake as a senior versus Eric as a freshman," Williams said. "So, you've got to give Eric time to see how good he's going to be. He's better this year, he sees more things, and he's a lot more confident."

Forward Bambale Osby started poorly, seeming to yearn for his frontcourt mate, Gist, more than anyone, as he missed three of his first four foul shots and a dunk early in the second half. From then on, Osby, who with Gist and Jason McAlpin are the Terps' only seniors, played much better, with 14 of his 15 points coming in a key 10-minute stretch from the end of the first half to the middle of the second half.

"I was messing with James all night, telling him he looked really slick," Osby said. "But it will be good to have him back on the court. We're going to need him.'

Sophomore guard Greivis Vasquez scored 18 points and provided the emotional spark for a Maryland team that desperately needed it, as well as a measure of composure to help the freshmen, including guard Adrian Bowie, who had 12 points off the bench. Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph) and Braxton Dupree (Calvert Hall) didn't score, though Gregory grabbed five rebounds in 15 minutes and Dupree had four in 14 minutes.

North Florida's Tom Hammonds, a high school teammate of Vasquez's at Montrose Christian, and Justin Cecil scored 14 points each for the Ospreys.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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