- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

Down a man and in need of a victory, the Maryland basketball turned to its bench to shake off two ugly losses.

Junior Mike Jones scored 22 points and sophomore James Gist had 13 points and six rebounds in his first start in more than a month as the 23rd-ranked Terrapins fended off Wake Forest 90-86 last night at Comcast Center.

Maryland (12-4, 2-2 ACC), which played without suspended forward Travis Garrison, survived a career-best 38 points from Wake Forest’s Justin Gray to remain perfect at home this season.

The Demon Deacons (11-5) fell to 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 1989-90, and Jones was a big reason why. Pressed into more time when Garrison was suspended after turning himself in to police on misdemeanor assault and sex offense charges in connection with an Oct. 27 incident at a College Park bar, Jones seemed likely to be a greater factor than usual.

After both Gist and Ekene Ibekwe encountered early foul trouble, Jones’ contributions went from simply appreciated to desperately needed. Armed with a blessing from coach Gary Williams to shoot at will, Jones turned in his best performance since Maryland’s season opener.

“It’s probably my fault,” Williams said. “He just had to have the green light and not worry about it. … I just told him whenever he was open shoot it. If he misses, keep shooting. That’s what a shooter wants to hear.”

It didn’t hurt that the Terps’ offense ran with far greater efficiency against Wake than it had in losses at Miami and Duke. Wednesday’s 29-turnover debacle at Duke, during which Maryland endured an assortment of poor decisions and shaky passing and catching, was replaced by a crisp three-turnover effort in the first half.

The improved control led to greater passing and the opportunity to delve deeper into the offense. That in turn led to more chances for Jones, who at times shot over a 2-3 zone and at others simply had clear looks.

“At times, if you’re a player and you’re open, you have to take a shot,” Jones said. “He stressed that for a while: ‘If you’re wide open, take a shot. If you’re not, work the ball around until you get a great shot.’ Tonight, it just happened that a lot of us got really great shots.”

Jones was only part of the evening’s perimeter parade. Gray, who has harassed opponents with his dangerous outside shot for four seasons, authored a memorable performance that started with a four-point play in the first minute and continued even with 3.6 seconds remaining when he hit a 3-pointer to pull Wake Forest within 88-86.

Maryland point guard D.J. Strawberry made two free throws less than a second later to clinch the victory for the Terps.

“Gray and Mike, they were just hitting shot after shot,” said Strawberry, who finished with a career-high 18 points. “It just seemed like it was a two-man show, like it was one-on-one.”

That it was even close for much of the game was a credit to Gray, who scored 21 points before the break to keep Wake within 41-38 at the half. Maryland seemed poised to break it open several times and pushed the lead to 65-48, but Gray and the Deacons managed to rally each time.

Wake closed within 83-80 on Harvey Hale’s 3-pointer with 33.3 seconds remaining, then caught a break when Nik Caner-Medley passed to an out-of-bounds Chris McCray after a timeout on the ensuing inbound play. That maneuver — legal under normal circumstances — resulted in a turnover after the timeout.

The Demon Deacons’ Eric Williams missed an inside shot on the next possession, and the Terps made four foul shots to seemingly put it away at 87-80. Yet Trent Strickland and Gray made 3-pointers around a Sterling Ledbetter free throw to make it 88-86 before Strawberry clinched it at the line.

Williams wasn’t as much of a factor as he could have been against the short-handed and foul-plagued Terps. With Garrison watching from the bench, Gist was effective in the paint and helped get Williams into early foul trouble. When both he and Ibekwe picked up two fouls in just more than eight minutes at the start, junior Will Bowers entered and provided some stability in the post.

One game after scoring 22 points and grabbing 20 rebounds against Clemson, Williams finished with 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting and eight rebounds.

The performance of the bench ensured the Terps wouldn’t head into a nearly week-long break on a three-game losing streak. The possibility of such a skid didn’t seem to faze Maryland, which sits squarely in the middle of the balanced ACC a quarter of the way into league play.

“We put stuff in perspective,” said McCray, who with 10 points was one of five Terps in double figures. “We know it’s tough to win on the road in the ACC where the crowds are great and the players get a kick out of their home fans. We know once we take care of our home court and we steal a couple on the road, we’re going to be fine and right where we want to be.”

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