- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — How a team starts is supposedly not quite as important as how it finishes.

At the very least, it is equally significant these days for the Maryland basketball program.

The typically slow-starting Terrapins opened yesterday’s game against Charlotte with their most complete 25-minute span of the year, then repelled a late push to survive a trip to Bobcats Arena with a 76-72 victory.

“That was good,” said sophomore guard Greivis Vasquez, who scored 24 points. “That’s why we’ve been winning the last three games because that really carried us all game. The way you start really does influence the way you play.”

James Gist scored 25 points — including a game-clinching free throw with 5.6 seconds remaining — as Maryland (9-6) won in its sneak-peek at the home of this year’s ACC tournament.

That event is more than two months away, and the Terps must still mature a great deal if they are to factor into the postseason discussion. Stunning home losses to Ohio and American remain stains on the resume of a team now seeking accomplishments wherever it can find them.

Maryland uncovered one against the 49ers (8-5), displaying ability early and resilience late to ensure its first victory away from Comcast Center this season.

“We’re a big-time different team,” senior forward Bambale Osby said. “Some of the lower RPI teams we played like Savannah State and Delaware, those were wins we were getting earlier. Some of the top-100 wins like Charlotte on the road, we couldn’t have got that a month ago. I think we’re really getting better as a team.”

Gist supplied much of the strength in the final moments for the Terps, who built a 53-32 lead before gradually watching the 49ers inch closer. And much of Charlotte’s production came from complementary players rather than senior guard Leemire Goldwire (13 points), who was harassed all day by Vasquez and shot 3-for-17 from the floor.

The pinnacle of Charlotte’s push came in the final 10 minutes. The 49ers employed a press that forced 10 turnovers in the second half, then dropped into a triangle-and-two to contain Vasquez and Eric Hayes.

Maryland also encountered difficulty with Gist and Osby both in foul trouble. The pair shuttled in and out several times in the closing minutes, swapping spots with Braxton Dupree and Shane Walker as coach Gary Williams tried to maximize their production.

“That was platoon time,” Williams said. “We were playing football there substitution-wise.”

It ultimately proved fruitful in the final moments. Gist was around to make two free throws after Charlotte closed within 71-69, and Osby redirected Lamont Mack’s shot with 20 seconds left to prevent the 49ers from converting what appeared to be an easy basket.

Still, it was a potentially frightful finish for the Terps after they darted to a 40-25 lead at the break.

“We can’t stop playing hard,” said Gist, who also had 10 rebounds. “Regardless of how the game goes, we have to keep running our offense, and we have to keep playing defense. I think that’s what we got away from in the second half, our defense. Our defense laid back a little bit in the second half, and they took advantage of that.”

The Terps resume conference play after an adjournment of nearly a month Saturday, and the first half was a virtual manual on what they must do in order to be competitive this season. Vasquez shot as well as he has all year and also clamped down on Goldwire.

The second half revealed all is not right just yet. A dominant half from Gist (he scored 18 after the break), though, ensured the day’s lessons did not sting quite so much as other games.

“We’re gradually building our confidence back up,” Williams said. “We weren’t playing with a lot of confidence in the second half. But we were tough enough to win the game.”

Terps report

Yesterday at Charlotte (N.C.) Bobcats Arena

By THE NUMBERS

40 Minutes played by Greivis Vasquez, the first full game of the sophomore’s career. Vasquez played all but 25 seconds earlier this season against Missouri and logged 43 minutes in an overtime win over Northeastern in November.

QUOTABLE

“The locker room’s open. Go down here about half a mile.”

— Maryland coach Gary Williams on the trek from the press room, which wasn’t quite that far but was long enough to justify the joke

SEEN AND HEARD

When reporters finally made it to Maryland’s locker room, forward Dave Neal conspicuously sat at his locker while wearing a Chris Cooley jersey. Clearly, this was a guy who wanted the team flight to leave as quickly as possible. And word was Neal even had the jersey hanging over his bed the night before the game.

As reporters were ushered out of the locker room, one said, “Dave needs to get home to watch the Redskins.”

“And James, too,” forward James Gist interjected, sure to get his fandom noted for posterity’s sake.

Patrick Stevens

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