- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dino Gregory’s return made a difference for Maryland on Saturday.

So did Greivis Vasquez’s resurgence.

The Terrapins needed every bit of both, fending off Eastern Kentucky 83-72 before 16,183 at Comcast Center.

Gregory matched a career high with eight points in his first outing of the season after an eight-game suspension for a team rules violation. Vasquez scored 20 points in his first game off the bench since late in his freshman season.

“It was all mental,” Vasquez said. “This was a great game for me just to sit down on the bench and see everything from the outside in and get back to what I am. I’m the crazy guy who plays at Maryland and tries to make plays. That’s who I am, and I’m going to be myself from now on.”

Landon Milbourne added 19 points for the Terps (6-3), who avoided the early-season pratfalls they endured in recent seasons and head into a 10-day break for exams with a victory that had all the makings of a rout early but never became one.

An upset loss to the Colonels (7-3) surely would have overshadowed the work of Gregory, who made his first career start and sent freshman Jordan Williams to the bench. Gregory played 33 minutes, collecting three rebounds and swatting a pair of shots.

There had been anticipation of the moment for weeks, considering how shallow Maryland’s frontcourt was for the first month of the season. And while the Terps were eager for his return, so was his family. Family members and friends sported a T-shirt proclaiming “Dino is back,” featuring a picture of Fred Flintstone’s pet decked out in a No. 33 jersey.

Gregory didn’t need much time to influence things. A little more than two minutes in, he connected on a 13-foot jumper that represented significant growth in his game.

“He’s worked hard,” coach Gary Williams said. “Dino during the summer put time into the gym like a Sean Mosley and a Greivis Vasquez, so I expect him to get better. We’ve had a history of that around here.”

His return, coupled with the Colonels’ smaller lineup and unusual offense, had a trickle-down effect for the rest of the rotation. Jordan Williams, who started the first eight games, played only nine minutes. Meanwhile, James Padgett didn’t play at all.

Gregory’s reappearance seemed smooth when Maryland bolted to a 24-8 lead. Yet Eastern Kentucky repeatedly rallied, closing within a point just before halftime and then tying it 60-60 in the middle of the second half.

Vasquez, who struggled with his shot for most of the season and didn’t start after arriving late for a team shootaround, summoned the sort of flair he used to carry Maryland to the NCAA tournament a season ago. Vasquez, who lived up to his promise of playing with more passion, connected on back-to-back 3-pointers as the Terps pushed their edge to 68-62.

“He played great,” Gary Williams said. “I thought that was the best game he’s played [this year]. I think that says something about Greivis.”

Vasquez scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half. Still, it was a dicey situation for Maryland, which knows all too well the dangers of early-season nonconference losses. In the past two years, the Terps have lost to Ohio, American and Morgan State, all at home.

“It’s definitely in the back of your mind,” Hayes said. “They come down and tie it at 60 with seven minutes left. We just didn’t want to do that again. We didn’t want to go through the same thing we did in the past. We just collectively said we have to step it up and play better. The last seven minutes, we did a great job of that.”

Eventually, Maryland shook off the Colonels, whose reliance on constantly changing defenses occasionally confounded the Terps. But letting a plucky visitor hang around was hardly what the Terps had in mind.

Correcting such problems - like permitting the Colonels to shoot 11-for-23 from beyond the 3-point line - will occupy Maryland in the coming days, even as attention shifts to exams.

“We just didn’t play good defense,” Milbourne said. “That’s all it was.”

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