- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

D.J. Strawberry leaned back against the scorer’s table in the middle of the first half last night, a look of amusement on his face.

The Terrapins already were well on their way to a rout, an uncommon scene a year ago when Maryland started sluggishly against everyone from the nation’s best to a Division II team.

Suddenly, things seem much easier and more enjoyable for the Terrapins, the path to victory much more obvious for a team that thrashed Florida A&M; 93-54 before a sparse gathering at Comcast Center.

It hardly mattered that many fans opted to stay home rather than drive to College Park on a dismal evening to see the Terps easily dispatch an overmatched team. That Maryland actually did so was perhaps another sign this bunch could be an upgrade over their two disappointing predecessors.

“I think we’ve talked about as a team from the end of last season until now about how lucky we are to have the opportunity to play this game in this place,” coach Gary Williams said. “I think we’ve bought that a little bit. We’ve got to show our fans we appreciate them being here and appreciate them coming out to the games. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that right now.”

Mike Jones scored 16 points, Greivis Vasquez added 13 points and seven assists and Strawberry had 12 points and six assists as Maryland cruised to its third easy victory in six days.

This was a final tuneup for the Terps (3-0) before this week’s Coaches vs. Cancer Classic semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York. Maryland, which meets St. John’s on Thursday and Texas or Michigan State on Friday, prepared by getting 10 players at least nine minutes of work last night.

There was Vasquez recklessly charging into the lane, contorting his body and tossing up a shot that easily fell, then burying a 3-pointer on the next possession.

Later senior Parrish Brown scored 10 points and delivered five assists as part of the Terps’ improved point guard rotation.

Then there was sophomore forward Dave Neal, who continued his early emergence after playing only 10 minutes in Maryland’s 20 games after last January.

Neal, who began the night leading the Terps in rebounds, produced the game’s most electrifying plays. He intercepted a cross-court outlet pass and flicked it to Strawberry at midcourt. Neal then accepted Strawberry’s no-look pass and absorbed a foul as he made a layup as part of a three-point play late in the first half.

“We’re winning, and we’re having fun,” Strawberry said. “You’re not going to have your best nights every night. It’s fun when you see Dave get out there and make a steal and get an and-one and Greivis bringing energy and everybody just playing well. Even if you’re not playing well, you’re still into it and still out there doing what you have to do.”

Rather than toying with the Rattlers (0-1), Maryland shredded them with deft passing that produced 24 assists on 34 baskets. The Terps never trailed and unleashed a suffocating press to help force 23 turnovers.

The result was a defensive display any team would be lucky to replicate, let alone one like Maryland with a recent history of struggling to contain any remotely decent 3-point shooter. The Rattlers went 9:11 without making a field goal, missing eight straight shots while continuing a 2-for-13 start from the floor.

At that juncture — just 12 minutes in — the outcome was already assured, just the latest improvement this year’s team has demonstrated in the first week of the season.

“A point of emphasis is to play strong, hard defense for 40 minutes,” senior forward Ekene Ibekwe said. “We all have to come out strong and hard and basically let a team know we’re here to play and set the tone from the start.”

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