- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

The warning signs the Maryland basketball team might not be in for its best day were everywhere.

There was the return from last week’s highly touted Maui Invitational to face a Nicholls State team only a handful of fans could place geographically. Mixed among the announced sellout crowd were a few thousand empty seats, and the Terrapins couldn’t even perform their usual pregame introductions for fear the lights at Comcast Center wouldn’t come back on because of a technical problem.

Those distractions aside, it certainly didn’t look like there were many problems for the Terrapins, who, as has been their custom this season, permitted the Colonels (who, for the record, hail from Louisiana) to hang around for awhile before playing a strong second half en route to an 88-56 victory.

Maryland committed only eight turnovers — six in the first 39 minutes — and dominated in the paint from beginning to end. Junior D.J. Strawberry had 12 assists and no turnovers while efficiently running the offense. Senior Chris McCray (20 points) hit four 3-pointers, and junior Ekene Ibekwe was strong in the post, scoring 15 with a couple of impressive spurts.

Yet that sluggish start didn’t sit well with Maryland coach Gary Williams, who was irked a consensus choice for last place in a conference that ranked 26th in the RPI last year (Southland) was within nine points of the Terps at the break. Rarely is it a good thing when an opposing coach claims he was “delighted to find ourselves in the game at halftime,” as Nicholls State’s J.P. Piper did yesterday.



“You start looking for reasons like that, and the basic thing is it’s a game, you have a chance to play and you get ready to play, and we weren’t tough enough to do that today, so hopefully we learn from that,” Williams said. “We got the win, which is the most important thing.”

There never was much doubt the Terps (4-1) would prevail against the undermanned Colonels (1-4), who were playing for the fourth time in seven days. Maryland needed less than 10 minutes to open a 29-13 lead, but Nicholls used three 3-pointers to pull within 31-24.

Any worries were erased with a 16-0 run to open the second half. Ibekwe had seven of those points, including a dunk followed by a lay-in off a steal during the Colonels’ next possession.

“We haven’t come out yet and played strong, but at least we play well in the second half,” McCray said. “We have to find a way to start games like that.”

It hasn’t been the case so far, and the Terps have scored at least seven more points in the second half than the first half in every game. That proved useful when Maryland was in Maui, where it overwhelmed Chaminade and Arkansas with strong second halves.

Maryland did take care of the ball better than it had in its first three games against Division I opponents, in which it averaged 20 turnovers. However, the Terps didn’t feel they could calculate the progress because the Colonels didn’t contest many passes that weren’t directed into the paint.

“They didn’t really pressure us that much,” forward Nik Caner-Medley (16 points) said. “I think we did a good enough job. I think it’s hard to compare if we’d have played a different team, a better team, what would have happened.”

A different team will arrive in College Park on Wednesday when Minnesota visits as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Golden Gophers will be without forward Vincent Grier, who suffered a broken finger in Minnesota’s season opener.

Even without their star, the Gophers are far more recognizable and talented than Nicholls State, a team Williams hopes imparted at least one lesson for the Terps.

“There’s nothing to dissect except how to play that hard all the time, and against Minnesota you don’t have to worry about that,” Williams said.

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