- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams‘ primary goal on Tuesday night was to get a complete effort out of his team against a vastly inferior opponent, the Terrapins didn’t quite deliver that.

But they showed enough grit that Williams should be relatively happy heading into the new year.

Save for a pair of defensive lapses at the beginning of each half, Maryland controlled Tuesday night’s 76-50 win over Elon at Comcast Center. And the fashion in which they did it showed that some of Williams’ talking points might be coming through.

Thanks to an improved performance in the paint, particularly from forwards Landon Milbourne and Dave Neal, a defense that churned out plenty of transition opportunities and one of the team’s best rebounding performances of the season, the Terps waltzed past the Phoenix feeling relatively good about themselves.

Maryland (10-2) has two nonconference tuneups left before its ACC opener against Georgia Tech, but its effort Tuesday night was one of the best examples of what the team can do. Maryland outrebounded Elon 45-35, with 15 of those boards coming on the offensive end. It held the Phoenix to 29 percent shooting from the floor, and the last few minutes of the game were a parade of fast-break dunks generated by a handful of the 18 turnovers the Terrapins forced.

“We’ll take the 26 [point win],” Williams said. “They played Virginia Tech to a 12-point game. It might not always be smooth this year, but that doesn’t mean we’re not playing hard. I think our defense has held us in there. I’m not going to be too picky with a 26-point win.”

The Phoenix found some early success against Maryland by forcing the Terps to collapse on driving guards Brett James and Devan Carter and kicking out to a wide-open TJ Douglas, who slipped away from Milbourne for a pair of 3-pointers. Once that avenue dried up, however, Elon quickly found itself without a legitimate option on offense.

“The first couple times, I was helping a little bit too much,” Milbourne said. “He was camping out on the 3-point line. I realized that, and once Coach took me out, I came back in and I didn’t let it happen again.”

And at the other end of the floor, Maryland had little trouble getting inside virtually whenever it wanted. While the Phoenix were stuck firing jumpers - and hitting only eight of their 29 field goals in the first half - the Terps spent much of the half getting easy transition buckets. When they had to set up their offense, Milbourne offered more athleticism than Elon could handle.

Shaking defenders on the wing or slicing inside for an easy entry pass, Milbourne scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, including eight in a row, to push Maryland’s lead to 16 points just before halftime. At the end of the first, the Terps held a 36-23 advantage.

But then came those Maryland doldrums that have become something of a habit during the Terps’ nonconference season. Instead of extending their lead, they struggled to collapse on Carter when he drove inside, committed five fouls in the first four minutes of the second half and allowed Elon to creep within nine on an easy James layup with 15:51 left.

A flustered Williams got two chances to correct his team in the next 12 seconds - one on a timeout he called, the other on an official’s timeout - but they didn’t help. After each stoppage, Maryland turned the ball over, and James hit two free throws that cut the lead to seven with 15:29 to play.

“We got caught at the start of the second half not playing particularly well,” Williams said. “That’s not something you can do as the season moves on here.”

The talent gulf between the two teams eventually took over again, in the form of three straight Terps 3-pointers that gave Maryland a comfortable 16-point lead inside of the 14-minute mark.

Junior Greivis Vasquez then took hold of the offense, and the Terps re-established their inside game and even found some semblance of the rebounding edge they’d been searching for. Maryland’s lead peaked at 26, and the Terps cruised home from there.

“That’s going to happen when you play ACC teams. They’re going to make runs on you,” said Neal, who led Maryland with 10 rebounds. “We wanted to beat this team as bad as we could. They made some runs, we came back at them and we put them away.”

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