- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

The numbers might have drawn a bit more notice if they weren’t increasingly typical.

Twenty points. Seven assists. Six rebounds. Five steals.

Ho-hum. Just another strong night for D.J. Strawberry, another increasingly common sight at Comcast Center.

The Maryland senior continued a torrid stretch as the Terrapins ripped winless Iona 88-57 in their final non-conference game before ACC play resumes Wednesday.

It was Strawberry’s fourth career 20-point outing — all during Maryland’s five-game winning streak — and another example of the wing-turned-point guard-turned-complete player’s evolution into the Terps’ best offensive option.

“I’m just trying to stay on my game as much as I can,” Strawberry said. “This is probably the year that I’ve put the most into it, and I’m getting the most out of it. Hopefully, I can continue to put out these performances during ACC play.”

James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe both added 11 points for Maryland (14-2), which dissected Iona inside for a 34-24 rebounding advantage and a 60-20 scoring edge in the paint. The Terps also shot a season-high 57.1 percent and forced 24 turnovers against the hapless Gaels (0-12).

Strawberry’s presence merely exacerbated Iona’s troubles.

Strawberry averaged 20.4 points, 4.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 steals while committing only seven turnovers in a five-game stretch against non-conference opponents. He did a little bit of everything against Iona, driving for a layup and hitting a 3-pointer as the Terps built an early lead. Strawberry also made several crisp passes to set up baskets to show he, perhaps as much as anyone, is ready for conference play.

“In my mind, he’s as good as any guard in the ACC,” coach Gary Williams said. “I don’t mind saying that.”

Williams said Wednesday he was impressed with the NBA career of Iona coach Jeff Ruland, who averaged 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds in eight seasons. The Gaels however, didn’t trot out anyone of Ruland’s ilk last night, a disparity apparent immediately.

Instead, the Gaels generously fumbled away possession after possession. Iona finally had as many field goal attempts as turnovers when Alejo Rodriguez took the team’s 11th shot with 9:02 remaining.

Perhaps more ignominious was the reality Iona had more team rebounds (two) than individual boards (one) when the teams reached the under-12-minute timeout. It even rushed off the floor after a shot clock violation at the end of the first half, only to dejectedly shuffle back to play the final 1.3 seconds.

The 6-foot-10 Ruland’s frustration finally boiled over early in the second half when he charged onto the floor and pointed at official Bob Donato, who promptly called a technical foul against the large interloper.

The most concerning aspect of the night to Maryland was the continued propensity for its post players to encounter foul trouble. Both Ibekwe and Gist quickly picked up two fouls, but bruiser Bambale Osby capably outmaneuvered the Gaels for eight points and seven rebounds in his best game in nearly four weeks.

Center Will Bowers also provided solid minutes and scored a season-high six points, including a dunk off a feed from Strawberry. It was one of several ways the reliable Strawberry buried the Gaels, who remained the lone winless team in Division I.

“That’s one thing a senior leader on any team has to do. They have to be the consistent go-to guy night in and night out,” Strawberry said. “I just want to go out there and play my game and just take what the defense gives me and not try to do too many things.”

Still, much will be asked of Strawberry when Miami visits Wednesday to start Maryland’s 15-game stretch of ACC games heading into the conference tournament.

There is much for the Terps — and, by association, Strawberry — to prove as they seek to end a two-year absence from the NCAA tournament.

“You get all the polls and everything,” Williams said. “We’re 14-2, but you get to prove how good you are when we get into league play in the ACC. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

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