- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

Maryland needed to rediscover its frontcourt to avoid a crosstown upset last night.

The No. 24 Terrapins scored 16 straight points midway through the second half to put away pesky American University 82-61 at Comcast Center. The Terps’ big men eventually combined for 39 points as all three starters scored in double figures and totaled 23 rebounds.

Maryland’s potent offense saw four players reach double figures. The Terps would have had five for the fifth time this season if forward Ekene Ibekwe hadn’t missed an open dunk in the final minutes.

Guard John Gilchrist led Maryland with 20 points, and forward Nik Caner-Medley added 16. Guard Jason Thomas topped AU (5-3) with 14, and guard Andre Ingram scored 12.

Maryland (7-2) now gets a three-day break before preparing for Liberty on Tuesday, and coach Gary Williams conceded he’ll spend the next few days worrying over the Terps’ uneven play. Maryland’s perimeter defense continued to leave shooters open as AU scored five 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes.

“Basketball coaching over the holidays isn’t a good job,” he said. “You don’t get that freedom of just forgetting about things and enjoying the holidays. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s part of the deal. There are still some things I still have to figure out about this team.”

It was a free-flowing affair as officials called few fouls before the game was decided. Both sides went through streaks both outside and underneath although neither generated much on the break, with AU getting just two points that way.

Maryland’s frontcourt, fueled by its pressing defense, finally broke open a close contest with 11 minutes remaining. Forward James Gist’s dunk was followed by a series of layups, offensive putbacks and free throws over five minutes for a 66-48 lead before AU could counter. Suddenly, a close game became a rout.

“We finally turned it on when we started to press,” Williams said. “We have to learn to turn it on without the press.”

Said AU coach Jeff Jones: “I think we got worn down. Maryland just kept coming at us and then during that one stretch … we didn’t respond.”

Maryland outrebounded AU’s smaller frontcourt 44-28, but the Eagles’ quickness managed to keep it close. The Terps were left flat-footed defensively too many times as the Eagles sped past on misdirected motion plays. Maryland finally countered with old-fashioned physical play underneath that made the difference. Ibekwe finished with 13 rebounds.

Though Williams had hoped to gain extensive time for reserves, Maryland got just 11 points from the bench. Center Will Bowers and guard Mike Jones played little before the game was settled as Maryland was forced to stay with its top seven players. Junior college transfer guard Sterling Ledbetter finally made his season debut with 1:38 remaining.

Maryland barely managed a 36-34 halftime lead after scoring the final four points. AU was fearless in the opening minutes with an 18-13 edge behind Thomas’ three 3-pointers. The teams traded baskets 13 possessions before both team hit streaks. Maryland rattled off nine unanswered points before AU countered with 10.

Maryland loosened its offense with guard Chris McCray and Caner-Medley hitting 3-pointers before the latter’s layup tied the game at 32-32 with 3:44 remaining. AU then gained its final lead on Ingram’s layup with 3:24 left, but it was also the Eagles’ final basket of the half.

“Whoever went in there didn’t play well,” Williams said of the first half. “Who played well in the first half? A couple guys from American U.”

Said Caner-Medley: “We came out flat. When we show emotion, that’s when we’re at our best.”

AU continued strong at the second half’s start, closing to 41-40 on forward Matej Cresnik’s 3-pointer. Maryland used five points by McCray for a 46-40 edge with 15:52 remaining, but AU followed with seven points underneath to stay within 48-47 with 12:43 left.

That was the end of AU’s challenge, though. Maryland soon scored 16 straight to seal the game.

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