- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

The No. 24 Maryland Terrapins needed a strong second half just to put away the best Division II has to offer.

Maryland sophomore center James Gist scored 17 points and added 10 rebounds, and Chris McCray scored 18 to lead the Terps to a convincing 89-59 victory over Virginia Union, the reigning Division II national champions, in their second and final exhibition game last night at Comcast Center.

Gist paced four Maryland players in double figures. Maryland led by only nine points at halftime but erupted to outscore the Panthers 53-32 in the second half.

“The second half was interesting because all we talked about at halftime was being patient,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “We had 16 turnovers in the first half, and a lot of them came on first or second passes in possessions. When we started to pass the ball well in the second half, we got easier shots, and everything just relaxed.”

This was Maryland’s final tuneup before Friday’s season opener against Fairleigh Dickinson at Comcast Center.

After that game, Maryland’s season gets tough in a hurry. The Terps travel to Hawaii to compete in the loaded Maui Invitational on Nov. 21-23. Four Associated Press preseason top-10 teams — No. 3 Connecticut, No. 4 Michigan State, No. 8 Gonzaga and No. 10 Arizona — highlight the impressive field.

“We’re definitely ready for anybody that comes to us,” Gist said.

The Terps open up in Hawaii against Gonzaga, which features preseason first-team All-American forward Adam Morrison. Even if Maryland stumbles early, the tournament field is so strong it undoubtedly will give Maryland quality tests in the losers bracket.

That’s why last night’s game was more than a mere walkthrough for the Terps. Talent-wise, Virginia Union is probably no worse than some of Maryland’s regular-season opponents. It’s debatable whether American, Delaware State, Nicholls State, Western Carolina, VMI or Texas A&M; Corpus Christi — a six-pack of nonconference lightweights awaiting the Terps — could beat Virginia Union in a head-to-head matchup.

The Panthers stunned coach Jeff Capel and Virginia Commonwealth 83-78 in an exhibition Thursday in Richmond, marking the second consecutive season they have defeated VCU in an exhibition game.

Pulling off upsets on back-to-back nights just wasn’t going to happen for the Panthers. Virginia Union hung around for the first half because the Terps could not protect the basketball. Maryland committed just four turnovers in the second half, however.

Maryland point guards D.J. Strawberry and Sterling Ledbetter struggled in the motion offense in the first half. Strawberry, who missed 18 games last season with a torn right ACL, is penciled in as the Terps’ starting playmaker, replacing John Gilchrist. He committed four turnovers and had just two assists in the first 20 minutes.

Most of Strawberry’s first-half miscues came when he tried to force passes in heavy traffic — both in Maryland’s halfcourt sets and in transition.

“I turned the ball over a couple times early, and then everything just kind of went downhill after that,” said Strawberry, who finished with six turnovers and five assists. “I usually make the easy play, and I was trying to make the hard play.”

Meanwhile, Ledbetter wasn’t much better in the first half, recording three turnovers and no assists in just six minutes of action.

Senior Chris McCray, who arguably is Maryland’s best outside threat, also is a capable ballhandler. He led the Terps with three assists in the first half.

“I played [point guard] last year and some in high school, and I’m comfortable there,” said McCray, who scored 13 of his points in the second half. “If I have to move over, then that’s fine, but I don’t think I’ll have to do that.”

Mike Jones came off the bench to score nine of his 13 points in the second half. Forward Nik Caner-Medley scored 12 points to round out Maryland’s double-digit scorers.

Virginia Union made just eight of 33 shots and turned the ball over 10 times in the first half but trailed just 36-27 at halftime.

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