- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams employed nearly every histrionic motion imaginable as the Terrapins tried to shake off a numbing first loss of the season last night against Fordham.

He barked at players, sarcastically signaled a palming call to officials moments after Greivis Vasquez was whistled for the same infraction, sweated profusely as is his wont and finally waved dismissively as he walked away from the bench at the end of the first half.

It also proved the conclusion of Maryland’s annual hangover from a BB&T; Classic loss as the No. 23 Terps parlayed scorching shooting and indomitable rebounding after the break into a 79-59 victory at Comcast Center.

“I was ready for it because we were really down after the Notre Dame game,” Williams said. “Sometimes you have to play your way out of a mental condition you’re in. I knew this would be tough because it was only two days of practice and we’re back playing again. … I was really worried myself before this game. I was very concerned we wouldn’t play ourselves out of it.”

Instead, Mike Jones rebounded from his worst shooting night of the season to score a team-high 18 points, and Ekene Ibekwe blocked a career-best seven shots despite battling serious foul trouble as Maryland (9-1) reasserted itself in the second half against the Rams (4-3).

Maryland shot 63.6 percent in the second half and outrebounded Fordham 22-9 in the final 20 minutes as it turned a 39-33 halftime edge into a rout not long after the break in spite of matching a season high with 25 turnovers.

Jones’ performance was especially encouraging after he was virtually invisible in the 81-74 loss to the Fighting Irish. The senior didn’t hit a shot from the floor Sunday and took extra shots during and after practice the next two days to rediscover his stroke.

The Terps needed such an outing in the first half as they struggled to a 2-for-9 start from the floor. More glaring was the inability of both teams to treasure the ball in the early moments; at the first television timeout, there were as many turnovers (seven) as total points.

It was Jones who provided a spark early, and he also delivered a 3-pointer to give the Terps a six-point lead with 8:08 left in the first half that never got any smaller.

“I realize you can’t make every shot you put up,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, it’s how you prepare for the next game.”

The Terps had limited offensive options in the first half after a parade of post players encountered foul trouble. First James Gist, then Ekene Ibekwe and finally Will Bowers all collected two fouls, with Ibekwe picking up his third with four minutes left in the half.

The woes forced Williams into deploying a four-guard set for the last eight minutes of the first half.

Ibekwe remained enough of a shot-blocking presence — both during a four-minute stint before his third foul and an extended appearance in the second half — to dissuade the Rams from attacking the paint with any frequency.

“What you like to see is that becomes discouraging where they settle for jump shots rather than try to go inside against you,” Williams said. “That’s what you try to do when you have a shot blocker like Ekene. It just put the message where it’s going to be tough to score inside.”

The Rams never established a shooting rhythm and also were careless enough to commit 18 turnovers.

For the Terps, it was a potential scare averted in plenty of time to yield an attractive final result. The early ugliness gave way to and was eventually masked by a torrid finish, which bodes well for Maryland’s visit to Boston College on Sunday in the ACC opener for both teams.

If last night was the first step in moving past the sting of the season’s first loss, a road victory over a perennial NCAA tournament team surely would send Maryland in the same direction it was headed as it won its first eight games of the season.

“We were hot in the beginning of the year and we had a fire going, and Notre Dame kind of took the fire away,” Gist said. “We just have to find out how to get it back and come out stronger.”

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