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Terrapins cruise in final tuneup

- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

Faced with the daunting notion of a 5:15 a.m. wake-up call Saturday in advance of an all-day flight to paradise, the last thing the Maryland basketball team needed Friday night was a rude wake-up call from an inferior New Hampshire squad.

Have no fear. The 25th-ranked Terrapins were never in danger of sleepwalking through this final early season tuneup in advance of the far more challenging Maui Invitational that awaits next week.

With an 82-55 thumping of the Wildcats at Comcast Center, Maryland put together its best all-around performance in three games to date this season, all of them lopsided victories over less accomplished foes.

So what if star guard Greivis Vasquez has yet to crack double digits and has been a decided nonfactor during the Terps' 3-0 start? And so what if they're still woefully thin on the bench with Steve Goins and Jin Soo Choi battling injuries and Dino Gregory suspended until mid-December? Seniors Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes, along with sophomore Sean Mosley, have more than made up for Vasquez's sluggish start and the lack of depth.

"We're a work in progress," coach Gary Williams said. "We're getting to be a good basketball team. And as people get healthy, I think we have a chance to be good. But there's still a lot of work to be done."

Milbourne was particularly dominant on the court Friday night, pumping in a career-high 24 points and scoring his team's first four points during a 9-0 run that put the Terps in control right from the start. The 6-foot-7 forward now finds himself the leading scorer on Williams' roster, averaging 16.7 points a game.

Not to be outdone, Hayes (15 points, 3-for-4 from 3-point range) and Mosley (13 points, 10 assists) chimed in, contributing to an efficient Maryland offense that shot 56.7 percent.

"We have a lot of talent," Mosley said. "Offense and defense are looking pretty good. The first couple games we came out kind of slow. Today we came out the first half aggressive and hit shots."

Thus the Terps completed a three-game sweep of their season-opening homestand, having dispatched of Charleston Southern, Fairfield and New Hampshire by an average of 31 points.

Whether this is a sign of big things to come remains to be seen. Williams certainly should have a better feel for his team's long-term chances once he returns from Hawaii on Thanksgiving evening. Following Monday's opening game against host Chaminade, Maryland will face either Cincinnati or Vanderbilt. The Maui field also includes Gonzaga, Arizona, Wisconsin and Colorado.

"We're going to have three tough games," Hayes said. "We just want to keep playing the way we have been on the defensive end and keep improving in our offensive execution."

If the Terps can manage to storm out of the gates the way they did Friday, they'll be in fine shape. Against New Hampshire, they scored the game's first nine points while forcing five turnovers. Milbourne was in the middle of it all, accounting for six of his team's first 13 points, including a steal-dunk combo that got the crowd roaring.

Maryland's offense was productive despite another unspectacular showing from Vasquez. The senior guard and focal point of the roster attempted just three first-half shots and finished with only eight points and two assists on 4-of-8 shooting.

"The one thing about Greivis, he's a great competitor," Williams said. "He's passing up a couple things that are pretty good looks that he should be taking. But he'll see that on tape."

Not that the Terps needed much from Vasquez on Friday. Taking advantage of sloppy play from the Wildcats - who at one juncture had 16 points and 13 turnovers - Maryland seized control, carried a 40-22 lead into halftime, and never let up.

Truth be told, the tougher challenge might have been an abbreviated night of rest, followed by that super-early wake-up call.

"Hopefully, I can get some sleep on the plane tomorrow," freshman Jordan Williams said.

But the quick turnaround is worth it in exchange for four days in Maui, right?

"Oh yeah," he said. "We have no complaints at all."