- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

There were outlet passes nearly the length of the court, a stifling press, players diving after loose balls, solid halfcourt defense and a blowout victory against an overmatched team.

For one night anyway — from D.J. Strawberry shouting “Yeah” after drawing a foul on a hard-earned rebound in the opening seconds to all members of the starting lineup finishing their evenings with more than three minutes to go — the Maryland basketball team looked like the talented Terrapins of old.

The Terps rolled past Hampton 102-75 in their season opener at Comcast Center, setting up a matchup with Vermont tonight with a trip next week to Madison Square Garden at stake.

Strawberry scored a team-high 19 points for Maryland, which never trailed against the Pirates (0-1) in their earliest season opener ever.

The rout was refreshing for the Terps, whose play was lackluster in two exhibition games last week. Those tight victories merely compounded the omnipresent concerns of the last two seasons, both of which ended with Maryland in the NIT.

“Those exhibition games, that’s why they call them that,” coach Gary Williams said. “They don’t count, and you have to try to do things that will help you when the season starts, and the season started tonight.”

If the Terps planned to leave those foibles in the past, they certainly found a fine way to start. Even with a predictable starting five — freshman Eric Hayes at the point along with holdovers James Gist, Ekene Ibekwe, Mike Jones and Strawberry — the Terps rotated 11 players onto the floor in the first half.

As expected, Hayes and Greivis Vasquez both received time at point guard. Hayes, while hardly perfect, displayed the court vision the Terps lacked at times last year on several occasions, once finding Ibekwe open two steps from the basket to set up an easy dunk.

Vasquez, who scored 12 points, also showed off his intuitive play and ability to run a fast break at the same time, throwing a diagonal pass off a turnover to Strawberry, who delivered a dunk for a 44-19 lead.

“We got off to a great start, played some great defense and got some steals early,” Strawberry said. “It got us going, and I think it kind of put them down a little bit and let them know it wasn’t going to be easy tonight.”

Both teams opened practice less than four weeks ago, so it was hardly a surprise neither was especially sharp. The Terps forced Hampton into 25 turnovers but committed 25 of their own. There also was a parade to the free throw line, with the teams combining for 62 fouls.

Predictably, it meant some foul trouble for the Terps, who nevertheless easily wore down the Pirates with their depth and athleticism. Ibekwe was particularly hampered, picking up his third foul with 7:15 left in the first half and adding another less than a minute after the break.

His absence didn’t make much of a difference, with junior Will Bowers and senior Bambale Osby both receiving plenty of time in his stead. Osby, brought in to provide much-needed muscle in the paint, again provided a surprising offensive presence on the interior with a nine-point performance.

For all of the individual performances, perhaps the most encouraging development was an improvement in the Terps’ perimeter defense. The Pirates shot 11-for-44 from beyond the 3-point arc, while the Terps easily clamped down inside against their smaller foes.

It is questionable how much the Terps truly can glean from the victory — Hampton lost all five starters from an NCAA tournament team last year and played without projected starting forward Matthew Pilgrim.

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