- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

There was rarely a doubt Maryland was superior to Florida State last night when it had its best players on the floor.

The trouble was keeping them there.

The Terrapins did so more than enough in the second half, earning a foul-filled 73-55 victory that featured coach Gary Williams’ first technical foul in nearly two years and perhaps the punchiest crowd of the season at Comcast Center.

Almost as a footnote to the boisterous proceedings was the fourth straight victory for the Terps (21-7, 7-6 ACC).

Maryland moved above .500 in conference play for the first time all season after another strong second half, and its fifth-place tie with Duke in the ACC was highlighted on the locker room dry erase board after the game.

“You start to believe in whatever happens,” Williams said. “Right now we’re very positive about ourselves. We know if we work and play the way we’re supposed to play, we’re pretty good. It’s hard to get to that every game. You have to get to it every game this time of year, and hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”

Bambale Osby scored a career-high 15 points for Maryland, which further polished its resume while damaging the NCAA tournament prospects of the Seminoles (17-11, 5-9), who have lost five straight and were serenaded with a sarcastic rendition of the tomahawk chop in the closing minutes.

Mike Jones scored 14 points, James Gist had 13 and D.J. Strawberry added 10 for the Terps, who assisted on 23 of 27 field goals.

All three starters sat for significant stretches of the first half with foul trouble. But brought back for a reunion tour after the break, they collectively broke Florida State with a flurry of precise passing that has become a hallmark for Maryland during its winning streak.

Strawberry scored three easy baskets — off an offensive rebound by Ekene Ibekwe, on a fast break off a block by Ibekwe and on a cut from the wing with a feed from Jones — and Osby, Jones and Ibekwe soon scored efficiently to make it 43-31.

“Foul trouble was like a burden, but once we got back in during the second half we went on a nice run,” Gist said. “It helped us put away at the beginning of the half, and I think that’s what really won the game for us.”

The Seminoles called a timeout, but they made as much of a push in it as the Terps did when they lost 96-79 last month in Tallahassee. They pulled within nine at one juncture, but after a Maryland timeout Jones drilled a 3-pointer and Gist slammed one in off Greivis Vasquez’s no-look pass to make it 57-43.

With the starters in and out of foul trouble, the Terps received significant contributions from Osby and Eric Hayes. It was Hayes who threaded several passes to the burly big man, who broke out of a slump with a 6-for-8 effort.

“You should put a bulletin on the board: Eric Hayes gets Boom 15 points,” Osby said. “It was all Eric tonight.”

Beyond the second-half outburst, the night’s most memorable aspect was the volcanic Williams’ impending eruption. By the 15:27 mark, when he raised his arms toward the student section across the floor and implored “C’mon, let’s go,” the combustible crimson-faced coach blended in nicely with Florida State’s garnet jerseys.

“We’ve had great crowds over 18 years, and we’re not here just to get excited for Carolina and Duke; we’re here to get excited for every ACC game,” Williams said. “That was my point. This was as big as any other game we play, and I wanted to show that’s how I felt about tonight’s game.”

Williams remained blustery as each of his starters picked up two fouls and his options were further limited. When Vasquez became the fifth starter to pick up his second — on an offensive foul with 4:49 remaining — Williams presumably made an uncouth remark and was slapped with a technical.

It was Williams’ first technical since an NIT quarterfinal against Texas Christian on March 26, 2005. And he was right to be displeased; the hamstrung Terps were in the midst of a 14-possession stretch during which they shot 0-for-11 and committed three turnovers.

As with the teams’ last meeting, the Terps had no answer for sublime forward Al Thornton, who scored 23 points and pulled down 15 rebounds. But the Terps yielded Thornton his outburst while shutting down the Seminoles’ backcourt.

Jason Rich, who exploded for 24 points in Tallahassee, was held to just four last night, and Florida State shot a meager 34 percent from the floor.

The Seminoles’ struggles were never more apparent than the first six minutes of the second half, when they shot 0-for-11 and committed two turnovers as the Terps pulled away.

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