- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

Moments before his team took the court, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams scrawled a few keys to the game on the locker room dry erase board.

His message was clear and concise “play our game” as the Terrapins played host to Siena yesterday in what could have been another easy blowout.

Instead, it took more than a half for Maryland to heed Williams’ increasingly animated pleas in what became a 94-75 victory.

“We didn’t play our game, so I guess I have to improve my writing,” Williams said.

The Terps (13-2), evidently, have much to work on as well after finishing a lackluster first half tied with the Saints (6-5) and failing to assert themselves completely until the final minutes at Comcast Center.

D.J. Strawberry scored a career-high 23 points, Ekene Ibekwe had 18 points and James Gist added 17 points and 13 rebounds for Maryland, which seemed discombobulated and impatient from the start.

“I was disappointed in our team,” Williams said. “There’s certain things you have to do as a basketball player, and one is mental preparation for every game you play. I don’t think that’s too much, because it’s what you’ve worked for all your life, to be a college basketball player. I don’t see any reason why, mentally, you can’t be ready to play the game.”

Maryland certainly wasn’t despite frequently hitting shots in the opening moments. Yet it was clear the Terps’ shot selection was lousy, as several players crept from their usual range sometimes with success, often with a clank.

The Terps’ defense took a 20-minute holiday, particularly when defending the 3-point line a bugaboo last year that had been tamed so far this season. Siena made seven 3-pointers in the first half and most, including Mike Beers’ successful attempt to tie the game at 41-41 at the buzzer, were open looks.

“Everybody has to look at themselves and get ready for each game,” Strawberry said. “It’s an individual thing. As one player gets ready for the game, the other has to do the same.”

In fact, the most memorable moment of the first half was an already seething Williams picking up a ball Greivis Vasquez had thrown out of bounds. Williams, already with a glint of rage in his eyes, turned to the bench and began explaining his displeasure as if it were a practice before an official took the ball away.

It was hardly Williams’ last moment of vexation.

After a Siena layup trimmed Maryland’s lead to 78-69 with 4:56 left, Williams took two steps onto the floor, his lip quivered and jaw moved to the side. Moments later, he gave a dismissive wave as he called a timeout in the aftermath of another layup.

By then, the Terps had built a cushion that could withstand a few more turnovers (they had 20) or shaky plays. However, the troubling play of the first half hardly was erased with a solid enough finish.

“You’re not always going to play well, but you can always play with a certain intensity level,” Williams said. “Why should we have to pick it up at halftime? It doesn’t make sense to have to pick it up at halftime.”

Maryland has one final nonconference tuneup Thursday’s visit from Iona before sloppiness like yesterday’s will prove far more harrowing. The Terps resume ACC play Jan. 10 when Miami visits. Three nights later, recent nemesis and current unbeaten Clemson visits College Park.

“It’s good that it happens now because you can work on and do some things,” Williams said. “It’s getting very close to the time where you take a night off, you lose. It’s as simple as that.”

And so the Terps, whose most miserable moment of 2006 was probably their NIT loss to Metro Atlantic member Manhattan in March, capped the year with a warning for the future against another MAAC foe. The prognosis as the calendar changes is better but only if they produce a better approach than yesterday.

Gist is among the Terps who realizes that and had a resolution for both himself and the program to prove it.

“Just bring it in 2007,” Gist said. “Happy New Year to everybody.”

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