- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

Maryland coach Gary Williams implored his team before last night’s game to carry over its defensive performance from earlier this month against Boston College, to maintain a stifling presence at that end of the floor rather than have it serve as an unusual blip.

The Terrapins certainly listened, suffocating American in the first half as they rolled to an 81-55 victory at Comcast Center in their first game back from a break for final exams.

“I’ve tried to sell the idea that if you play really good defense most of the time and you struggle a little bit offensively, the defense will break some things loose, it’ll create some opportunities to score that you might not be able to get out of your offense until you start running the offense a little better,” Williams said. “I thought we did a good job of that in the first half.”

Seniors Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray both had 17 points and junior Ekene Ibekwe added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Terps (8-2), who improved to 6-0 at home this season.

Andre Ingram and Jordan Nichols both scored 11 points for the Eagles (3-7), who lost at Comcast for the third straight season and fell to 1-13 all-time against the Terps.

Maryland had not played since the Dec. 11 defeat of then-No. 6 Boston College and it struggled in the first half earlier this year against lesser lights Chaminade, Nicholls State and Western Carolina, so it would have been little surprise if the Terps produced another sluggish start.

While Maryland was hardly crisp in the first few minutes, it didn’t stumble through a lackadaisical stretch, either. The Terps forced six turnovers in the first four minutes and quickly opened a double-digit lead.

The Terps’ unrelenting defense, which forced 12 turnovers in the first half (19 total) and limited the Eagles to 7-for-27 shooting before the break, obfuscated some early struggles at the offensive end.

However, Maryland was never in any serious jeopardy as it gradually buried the Eagles.

“In this situation, they didn’t have much to gain from playing well,” American coach Jeff Jones said. “I’m sure they just wanted to win the game and get out of here, but somehow or another Gary got them to play really well and really aggressively, at the defensive end in particular.”

The Terps clearly relished the quickly established rout. McCray drove in for an easy layup after Ibekwe fired a cross-court pass to make it 16-4, and Ibekwe grinned all the way back to the defensive end. The sequence of a Maryland steal and a layup or dunk began to border on monotony as the half concluded, and the Terps finished with a 27-2 edge in fast-break points.

The blowout gave the Terps plenty of time to tinker with their lineup, including one with backup point guard Parrish Brown on the floor at the same time as McCray and starting point guard D.J. Strawberry. Brown had six points, four assists and one turnover and could earn more significant minutes to spell Strawberry once the Terps resume ACC play next month.

That will come after the Terps conclude this homestand, which still includes games against Delaware State, VMI and Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi. There is still time for the Terps to adjust facets of their game, though escaping with three more victories would suit Williams fine.

“Every team at our level plays games like this,” Williams said. “We have to win these games because when we get into the ACC, it’s going to be tough with a lot of tough road games and things like that. If you can look at some things, great.”

The Eagles, who entered with a three-game winning streak, were sloppy throughout the first half, and their shaky play rubbed off at times on the Terps. Maryland occasionally played out of control and struggled to discover its outside shooting touch in the first half even before American temporarily switched to a zone.

It wasn’t enough to derail the Terps, who coasted into the locker room with a comfortable lead for the first time all season.

“Last year when we played American, it was close at the half and we wanted to really come out and get on them early and get back on track,” Caner-Medley said.

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