- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry was a little more bruised than usual Wednesday, the product of a long night of chasing down long rebounds while also factoring into a few scrums inside.

He was also smiling more, the product of the Terrapins’ modest two-game winning streak that coincided with Strawberry’s increased presence on the glass.

“It’s just getting in there and boarding,” Strawberry said. “I know we need help on the boards and I know I’m the three man, and that’s where most of our rebounds have to come from if they’re going to come from anybody else. I just have to step up. I took some hits down there that I really didn’t like, but I have to step up and do what I have to do.”

Another backcourt boost on the boards would help Maryland (19-7, 5-6 ACC) when it visits Clemson (19-6, 5-6) this afternoon and attempts to climb back to .500 in the conference. A victory would put the Terps at an important plateau — no ACC team has won 20 regular-season games and failed to reach the NCAA tournament since the field was expanded to 64 in 1985.

The Terps received five rebounds from both Strawberry and Mike Jones a week ago against Duke, and Strawberry set a career high with nine rebounds Wednesday against N.C. State.

In their last six games, the Terps have received at least 13 rebounds from their backcourt four times and won each game. Maryland’s guards grabbed only six rebounds against Florida State and nine against Virginia, and the Terps lost both times.

The added effort has taken some of the rebounding pressure off forwards Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist, who are both averaging more than seven boards a game.

“I think we’re a better rebounding team when D.J.’s rebounding,” coach Gary Williams said. “It just seems to bring everybody up. Ekene and James have been pretty consistent all year in terms of numbers. That position used to be a forward position. That three spot in college basketball is now more of a guard, but whoever is there has to rebound.”

The effects have been obvious as the Terps have moved from a precarious NCAA tournament position to a more stable spot in less than a week. Maryland’s 29-9 run to open the victory over Duke was capped when Strawberry grabbed a rebound on the perimeter, then darted down the floor for a one-handed jam.

Transition baskets also helped wear down ultra-thin N.C. State, which could do little to stop Strawberry from creating easy scoring opportunities off a long rebound.

“Coach told me if I get rebounds, I can go on and push it myself and I like that,” Strawberry said. “I was getting rebounds and that was my whole focus when they were shooting, getting rebounds and being able to push myself and go on the break.”

The possibility for a similar performance exists today since the Tigers — who opened the season as one of the ACC’s best rebounding teams — were beaten on the glass seven straight times before holding a two-rebound edge in Wednesday’s loss to Wake Forest.

Strawberry isn’t the only guard capable of providing a rebounding lift. Freshman Greivis Vasquez has a dozen games with at least four rebounds, while Jones has nine. Even Eric Hayes has delivered some key boards, including a five-rebound performance against Georgia Tech.

“That’s a tremendous help when you can get the guards into the rebounding,” Gist said. “It really helps when you have two big guys down low fighting for rebounds and then you also have guards that can also get in there. That makes a team better.”

Given the last two games, it makes the Terps much better. In addition to securing the team’s first winning streak since nonconference play, the improved rebounding also showed the Terps could have a chance to recapture the quality of play that led to an 8-0 start in November.

“I hadn’t seen this since the beginning of the year,” Gist said as he marveled at Strawberry’s performance Wednesday. “It was like we were kind of back on track.”

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