- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

Yesterday’s exhibition game at Comcast Center figured to provide an early appraisal for the Maryland basketball team as it meanders toward its Nov.18 regular-season opener.

The results were apparent quickly and are hardly a surprise less than a month after practice began: an offense capable of running a rapid tempo all day and a defense with plenty of progress to be made despite forcing 33 turnovers with the help of a strong press.

“We had three weeks of school, and this is our first exam,” coach Gary Williams said after the Terrapins defeated St. Francis Xavier 90-59. “You find out you didn’t study enough for certain things. We have another test [Friday night in an exhibition game against Virginia Union]. Once you go against different people, you can really see better what you have to work on.”

Among those acing their first test was guard Mike Jones, who scored 17 of his game-high 19 points in the first half. Jones, known as a pure shooter when he arrived in College Park two years ago, mixed perimeter prowess with improved defense to make an early impression.

Jones spent much of the summer improving his conditioning in the weight room, and the effects were apparent as the Terps wore down the X-Men yesterday. Williams believes Jones will be more capable this year of making shots well after he enters the game because he is in better shape.

Said guard Chris McCray: “When he’s on, he’s one of those guys who doesn’t hit the rim. We do a good a good job of finding him when he’s on. We know if he makes his first shot, he can go off and run five or six in a row off.”

That’s what happened yesterday. Jones had two strong runs against the X-Men, scoring seven consecutive points after entering the game less than six minutes in, pushing Maryland’s lead to 18-9.

The X-Men repeatedly pulled within three, but Jones answered the last two times with 3-pointers to help Maryland finish the half on a 19-6 run.

“I was just getting the right shots, getting the ball at the right time,” Jones said. “We have a lot of point guards on the team and great passers, and they will get the ball to you at the right time.

Also impressive were center Will Bowers and guard D.J. Strawberry. The 7-foot-1 Bowers seemed more comfortable than his first two seasons, scoring 13 points and adding seven rebounds and four blocks in 18 minutes off the bench. James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe started in the post, though Ibekwe played only 12 minutes and fouled out.

Strawberry, meanwhile, encountered little difficulty running the offense in his first game since tearing the ACL in his right knee Jan.17. He had seven assists in 24 minutes and provided his usual defensive spark with six steals.

Several of those came off Maryland’s press, though St. Francis Xavier turned it over in nearly every imaginable way at least once. Yet even as several Terps acknowledged it was a solid performance, they realize they must improve their defense before opening the regular season against Fairleigh Dickinson and then playing in the Maui Invitational.

“Defense is always the last thing to come,” Williams said. “It’s amazing. It’s the last thing, but it’s the thing every good team has. We have to be good defensively. We’re not a good defensive team yet.”

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