- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Maryland basketball team made its first appearance in the national rankings yesterday afternoon after winning the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic last week.

The Terrapins’ performance a few hours later against Winthrop suggests they won’t be leaving any time soon.

Maryland abused weary Winthrop in the low post, unleashing a barrage of dunks and easy baskets to put the Eagles away quickly in a 71-60 victory that wasn’t nearly so close.

“We were really happy after the games up at the Garden, so to come back and play like that against a good team impressed me a lot,” coach Gary Williams said. “That’s what’s going to make us good, if we put it out there every night and not pick and choose when we turn it on. We certainly played with the same intensity tonight that we played in New York with.”

Ekene Ibewke scored 18 points, and Bambale Osby added 14 for the Terps (6-0), who outscored Winthrop 40-18 in the paint.

“We wanted to come down to Earth after the New York trip and just realize we have a lot more work to do,” Ibekwe said. “We just wanted to be levelheaded.”

The Terps remained patient, a reflection of a vastly more polished, intelligent and poised team than a year ago. They were rewarded with a larger crowd at Comcast Center, a sign fans might be warming to a team ranked 25th in this week’s Associated Press poll.

Maryland was coming off a victory against Michigan State in which it figured out how to survive when its offense struggled to find open shots. Last night brought a new lesson: how to bury a talented opponent when the offense is working almost perfectly.

Ibekwe pounded away at the Eagles (3-2) for five dunks on one end, three blocks at the other and eight rebounds between the two. Osby, who played a season-high 16 minutes when James Gist quickly encountered foul trouble, shot 5-for-8 and grabbed seven rebounds after remaining silent for much of the trip to New York.

Maryland’s forwards shot 11-for-13 from the floor in the first half, and the Terps collectively shot 51.7 percent for the game.

“Coach told us, ‘Look, we need to get better running this offense,’ ” Osby said. “The more efficient you get with it, the more open people get.”

In the middle of it all was D.J. Strawberry, the maestro who has helped orchestrate the Terps’ stunningly smooth start. He did a little of everything, hitting a 3-pointer, grabbing a rebound or sending an outlet pass to Eric Hayes, who drove for a layup at the halftime buzzer as Osby pumped his first at midcourt and the crowd roared with approval for the Terps’ 42-26 lead.

Strawberry also stifled Winthrop guard Michael Jenkins, who entered averaging 19.8 points. Jenkins missed all five of his field goal attempts and scored two points in 31 minutes.

“You just hold your breath because that can all change quickly, especially if you let up on him for an instant,” Williams said. “We stayed tough on him the whole game.”

The Eagles (3-2) were playing their fourth game in seven days and seemed a bit slower than the team that scared Tennessee in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, pushed North Carolina well into the second half last week and pummeled Mississippi State on the road Saturday.

Winthrop, which has won the Big South six of the last eight years, was an anemic 5-for-28 from the 3-point line, and the Terps’ strong play only exacerbated matters.

“We didn’t have the same fire,” Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said. “I’m giving Maryland the credit, but I also know I didn’t recognize my team. It’s one of the worst games we’ve played in four years.”

Last night was a chance to see whether the Terps would be satisfied with an early season tournament title or instead heed Williams’ exhortation that it was only mid-November, improvement was needed and Winthrop was not to be overlooked.

The Terps responded with a polished performance — on everything from crisp passing to Ibekwe trying to wrest away a rebound with a 24-point lead and five minutes remaining — while hinting more progress could be on the way.

“We won’t work any harder to get ready for a team the rest of the year,” Williams said. “This was work. Michigan State was work. St. John’s was work. They’re big games, games that will really help us at the end of the year. We’re just going to continue to do the things we’ve been doing. We’re not going to change anything.”

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