A collective sigh emanated from the student section at Comcast Center more than six minutes into Monday night’s game, a grudging acknowledgment of what had finally happened.
American had made its first shot, and Maryland fans were forced to settle for a victory rather than a near-impossible shutout. Still, it was a substantial upgrade from a year earlier.
The Terrapins handled the Eagles 67-51 to exorcise a miserable memory from a season ago.
The holidays will be much more agreeable for Maryland (8-2), which lost to American exactly a year ago Monday and ensured a rough Christmas for the then reeling Terps.
Not so much this time.
“It was great,” forward Landon Milbourne said. “I’ve been thinking about this for a whole year now. It’s good we beat these guys on our home floor. I feel like we’re a completely different team, and I felt like we came out with the energy and the focus and it carried over to a win.”
Milbourne and Dave Neal both scored 14 points, and Greivis Vasquez added 13 for the Terps, who won their fourth straight. Derrick Mercer scored 12 points and Garrison Carr added 11 for American (5-6), which couldn’t follow up its first victory against Maryland in 80 years with a stirring encore.
The Eagles’ hopes were quickly extinguished. The Terps scored the first 11 points, deleting the drama of a rematch that again landed at an inopportune spot on the schedule. Maryland hadn’t played in 10 days, with final exams occupying plenty of attention during the hiatus.
Oh, and there was the matter of that result from last season.
“They beat us last year,” coach Gary Williams said. “It was the same exact situation, and they were a year older, so sure I was concerned. I have a lot of confidence in these guys because of the way that we practice, but you can’t practice the way you like to practice during exams, so it’s a different situation. I was concerned, but we did what we had to do to win.”
It helped that Neal was reliable in every facet in the first half. He was effective inside and outside and also was assertive when rebounding against the smaller Eagles. Neal scored five of the Terps’ first seven points and contributed four foul shots to Maryland’s 16-for-18 night at the line.
“The first half was probably my best all-around half I’ve had since I’ve been at Maryland,” Neal said. “I scored, I played good defense, I rebounded. That’s just what Coach Williams expects me to do, being the only senior.”
The second half had its moments, particularly when Sean Mosley chased down Mercer to block a shot. The ball caromed away from the basket, and it led to a break finished off when guard Vasquez faked a behind-the-back pass before opting for a layup.
That capped a 19-5 run that turned a steady but hardly secure lead into a certain rout. Maryland did some of its best work from the perimeter, but it also wore down the Eagles. Carr hit only one 3-pointer just two days after scoring a career-high 34 points; thanks to their press, the Terps held a 23-8 edge in points off turnovers.
It was a modestly fulfilling win for Maryland, which finally can quit hearing about last year’s loss. Instead, with a third of their schedule complete, the Terps are eager to look forward - perhaps even to the slight chance of avenging another setback against a local program.