- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

Consider the Maryland basketball team tuned up for conference play.

The 14th-ranked Terrapins used a late run in the first half last night to surge past Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi 99-73 at Comcast Center in their final game before resuming their ACC schedule.

Nik Caner-Medley scored a season-high 23 points, Chris McCray had 16 and D.J. Strawberry added 14 for Maryland (11-2).

The Terps won in convincing fashion against the independent Islanders (10-5), an athletic team that struggled with its ballhandling and was sunk by the Terps’ 20-3 run just before halftime. After spending nearly a month at home, Maryland ventures back into conference play Saturday at Miami.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “This time of the year, if you’re a player or a coach, you like these next two months.”

He had to like his team’s defensive performance against the Islanders. Maryland flummoxed Corpus Christi with its pressure defense, forcing 24 turnovers and holding a 33-6 edge in scoring off miscues.

“When we get out and get steals and we get out on breaks and get dunks and get layups, that’s how we play,” Strawberry said. “When it’s that easy, you’re having fun out there. This team has to have fun in order to play good, and we have to get out in transition in order to play good.”

For a time in the first half, it appeared the Terps would have trouble with a Corpus Christi program that has established a reputation for its ability to play with more recognizable programs, from its victories in consecutive years over Texas Christian to a win at Florida State last season to a one-point loss at Missouri last month.

Corpus Christi hung around for more than 15 minutes, tying the game at 25-25 on Aaron White’s 3-pointer. Then the Terps put together their first sustained burst, needing less than two minutes to move ahead 36-28.

It didn’t take long for the Islanders’ frustration to surface. Maryland’s Ekene Ibekwe blocked a shot by Carl Nelson, who in turn attempted to elbow Ibekwe. Nelson was called for an intentional foul, and McCray made two free throws to establish the Terps’ first double-digit lead.

The sequence seemed to energize the Terps, who went on to build a 45-28 lead before the Islanders made two free throws. Still, the Terps took plenty of momentum into the break when, after a timeout, Strawberry drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer to make it 48-30.

There were no hiccups to start the second half, either. By the time the Terps had put their entire second team on the floor with 12:51 left, they had expanded the lead to 32.

The reserves delivered some highlight reel material, even after their solid play in the first half. Backup point guard Parrish Brown connected with James Gist on a clean alley-oop to top solid outings for both players.

Will Bowers smoothly buried a 3-pointer from the wing to the delight of the crowd, and walk-on Gini Chukura elicited the loudest cheer with a 3-pointer with 1:21 left as Maryland rolled to its second straight 99-point outing.

“Coach has been on us for the past couple days about pushing the first team, playing hard in practice and everything,” Brown said. “We came out and got a chance to play and made the best of our minutes.”

Those performances only can help Maryland with the arrival of conference play. The Terps have not lost since a sobering performance against George Washington exactly one month ago, and they head to Miami riding a six-game winning streak.

“When we lost to GW, [Williams] basically said we want to get to 11-2 before we got to Miami,” McCray said. “We did what he asked us to do, so now I’m pretty sure he’s going to give us another ultimatum. We’re just going to do what he asks us to do. Everybody just wants to win, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

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