- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

Maryland did little wrong in the first half last night against Delaware State, demonstrating a stifling defense with the potential to take it far into March and steadiness and balance on offense that makes it difficult to defend.

Of course, 20 minutes were left to play.

The 16th-ranked Terrapins raced to a huge halftime lead before fending off the perpetually plodding Hornets 68-54 at Comcast Center last night, picking up their fourth straight victory in a game riddled with sloppiness and uneven play.

“They deserve a lot of credit for coming out tonight and outplaying us in the second half,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “Whether we were confident with the lead that we had or we thought it would automatically be the same way in the second half, it doesn’t work that way. Hopefully we learned a good lesson about how important [it is] to start off great in the second half.”

Nik Caner-Medley was one of four players in double figures for Maryland (9-2), contributing 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and five steals as Williams earned his 550th career victory.

Jahsha Bluntt matched his career-high with 24 points for the Hornets (2-9).

It was an atypical evening for the Terps, who usually play far better deeper in games. Maryland led 36-10 late in the first half, but Delaware State pulled within 47-37 with 9:17 remaining before the Terps pulled away thanks to a seemingly ceaseless parade to the foul line and a give-and-go from D.J. Strawberry to Ekene Ibekwe to make it 60-42 with 5:20 left.

“We kind of relaxed a little bit, but we were still getting hands up in some people’s faces and they were just hitting shots,” Strawberry said.

Added Williams: “If we had played great the first five minutes, I think it might have been a lot easier.”

Delaware State usually remains patient on offense even when behind by a large margin, and last night proved no different. The defending MEAC champs’ scheme can fluster foes more accustomed to a free-flowing game, and it caught up with the Terps during a sloppy stretch to open the second half.

“Even though they tried to slow it down, we tried to speed it up,” Caner-Medley said. “As opposed to a lot of games that are kind of sprints here and there, this was just a marathon. It was just run, run, run, run, run, run. It was good for us.”

Helpful though it might have been, Williams hardly could have been comforted by the sight of most of his starters on the floor at the final buzzer or the need to rely almost exclusively on a seven-man rotation in the second half.

Arguably the biggest scare of the night for the Terps came when Strawberry hobbled off with 12:27 remaining. The point guard grimaced when trainer J.J. Bush tended to the back of his right knee, but it was merely some cramps and he re-entered with 10:43 left.

The Hornets have not allowed an opponent to score 70 points in their last 20 games, but Maryland started fast enough to put that streak in jeopardy. Mike Jones’ 3-pointer, a James Gist dunk and a Chris McCray steal and layup within a minute bumped the Terps’ lead to 16-6, and it seemed certain to turn it into a laugher.

What followed was certainly somewhat comical, though hardly anything worth watching again. Both teams went silent on offense, trading missed shots and turnovers for nearly six minutes.

The Hornets’ incessant dawdling made matters worse and did little to bring them closer against a strong Maryland defense. In a five-possession stretch, Delaware State left a combined 20 seconds on the shot clock before taking a poor shot or committing a turnover.

Strawberry finally broke the funk with a 3-pointer, and the Terps continued to gradually build the lead. Caner-Medley was instrumental during the stretch, picking up a steal and passing to Strawberry, who banked it off the glass on his way to the basket. Caner-Medley followed with a baseline drive for a dunk, then added an acrobatic layup to make it 27-8.

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