- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

As the Maryland basketball team filed out of its Comcast Center locker room Wednesday night and into a week of exams, the vividness of two unerring truths must have been reinforced.

First, sharpshooting guard Mike Jones is capable of scorching any team obstinate enough to remain in a zone the entire night, as he did while hitting a school record nine 3-pointers in a 101-50 rout of Missouri-Kansas City.

More important than Jones’ wide-open rollicking, though, was the reminder of what happens when the Terrapins play smart. Even against a laughably inferior team, the Terps were crisp in their passing, relentless in their defense and steady in their rebounding, as well as accurate in their long-distance shooting with a little help from a recalcitrant foe.

Collectively, those traits reinvigorated a team that shuffled through losses to Notre Dame and Boston College this month after opening with eight straight wins. The setbacks cost Maryland (10-2) its national ranking and some of its buzz, but it didn’t diminish the team’s realization of what it could accomplish.

Wednesday’s victory, lopsided as it was, was a well-timed example of what could go right for the Terps, who began a 10-day break yesterday and won’t play again until Dec. 23.

“We weren’t playing like the team we were when we started the season,” guard D.J. Strawberry said. “We just wanted to get back to that and play with a lot of energy and enjoying the moment out there on the team and play as a team. When we play as a team, we’re a good team. Once we start going off and doing other things, we’re going to lose games like Notre Dame and BC.”

Sunday’s defeat at Boston College was probably the Terps’ largest squandered opportunity of the season’s first five-plus weeks. Maryland didn’t pass well, wildly threw it away when it tried to and treated rebounding as an optional act rather than a necessary one.

Despite all of it, the Terps remained within a quick spurt of the Eagles until the final four minutes. The reality of the setback — beyond the assurance of a month ensconced at the bottom of the ACC standings — was it would be Maryland’s final true test of the calendar year so long as it shaped up for its remaining nonconference games.

The blowout of the Kangaroos suggests the Terps already have done so.

“After losing to Boston College, we had to set ourselves a goal that we wanted to win out until we got into conference play,” guard Parrish Brown said.

It shouldn’t be too tough to meet as American, Mount St. Mary’s, Siena and Iona march into College Park in the next three weeks. There isn’t a Michigan State or Illinois — both teams the Terps defeated last month — among them, or a Boston College or Notre Dame.

“I think that’s as tough a schedule as anybody’s played,” said coach Gary Williams, whose team’s strength of schedule is ranked 36th by collegerpi.com. “To be 10-2, we have to keep it going now. We just have to go from here.”

Wherever that proves to be, the external expectations for the team have been raised after the strong start. The Terps, picked seventh in the ACC’s preseason media poll, were arguably the league’s second most impressive team behind North Carolina before their two stumbles.

The Terps’ long-term fate rests in their ability to pass efficiently and defend aggressively, particularly inside against more physical foes. Williams’ lineup changes Wednesday — starting Greivis Vasquez and Bambale Osby over Eric Hayes and Ekene Ibekwe — are not necessarily permanent and are not as critical as repeating the actions that triggered the early run.

“It’s gone pretty good,” Osby said of the first dozen games. “Overall, when we decide we want to play together, we’re a pretty good team.”



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