- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Maryland learned yesterday it doesn’t have to make every game an instant classic.

After being forced to overtime in three of its last four games, the Terrapins settled for a runaway victory.

Maryland beat Pepperdine 96-72 before an announced 17,950 at Comcast Center, but the arena was barely half full. The Terps (6-2) used two double-digit streaks early in the second half to pull away before coach Gary Williams emptied his bench.

Guard John Gilchrist led 11 Maryland scorers with a career-high 24 points and seven assists. Center Jamar Smith had his seventh double-double this season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“We were all curious just how we’d play after the Florida game [on Wednesday],” Williams said. “It took us awhile, but once we did I thought we played at a pretty good level.”

Before breaking nine days for exams, Maryland needed to know whether it could maintain momentum after its 69-68 overtime upset of No.1 Florida Wednesday. The Terps lost two straight after they shocked No.15 Wisconsin 73-67 in overtime on Dec.2 so it was paramount to avoid another letdown.

“You could tell from early in the game people were still thinking about the last game,” Gilchrist said. “It’s hard to get over a win like that in such a dramatic fashion.”

Said guard D.J. Strawberry: “We came out a little flat after we got a win against Wisconsin. I think we started off a little flat [against Pepperdine], but after awhile we picked it up.”

Pepperdine led 16-14 with 12:01 remaining in the first half before Maryland scored nine straight points and never trailed again. Forward Glen McGowan led the Waves (3-5) with 36 points.

“We laid an egg,” Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal said. “I basically told [my team] we can’t play any worse so it has to get better.”

After a slow start shooting this season, the Terps have captured their outside touch. Maryland converted 67.7 percent of its shots in the second half and scored 52 points despite playing reserves liberally. Maryland even made 10 of 16 3-pointers.

“The first couple games we weren’t taking high-percentage shots,” Williams said. “We can gradually build, get that confidence by making shots. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a layup or 3-pointer, things build with young guys.”

Said Smith: “We’ve just been more patient, throwing the extra pass and it’s showing up now.”

The Terps benefited from their backcourt’s growing maturity. Gilchrist is more comfortable driving through tight zones while guard Chris McCray has regained his outside touch. Strawberry’s 17 points were the most by a Terps freshman since Drew Nicholas’ 17 in 1999.

However, it’s the frontcourt’s earlier success that is spilling over to the backcourt. Opponents are concentrating more on Smith and forward Nik Caner-Medley and are giving the guards better shots.

“Teams are having to focus on our inside presence,” Caner-Medley said, “and it’s opened a lot more on the outside.”

Smith continues his run of double-doubles that included a pair of baskets when Maryland pulled away late in the first half.

“That’s nothing new to me,” he said. “Ever since I’ve gotten the time I’ve always gotten double-doubles in my career.”

Maryland led 44-32 at halftime despite not scoring a two-point basket for nearly nine minutes. The Terps made six 3-pointers compared to only two field goals before they finally worked the ball inside with seven minutes left in the half.

The Terps reeled off an 11-0 run and then a 12-0 run for a 71-46 lead with 11:41 remaining. Maryland simply overwhelmed Pepperdine by quickening the pace and scored 14 straight points in the second half on layups. The Terps emptied the bench with seven minutes remaining.

“You need that reinforcement in the games,” Williams said of playing reserves. “Sometimes you ask guys to work hard in practice and it’s nice when they can get in there and play.”

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