- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. | Whenever Maryland is in dire need of a victory, it always can count on one thing: a date with anyone in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Coming off consecutive ugly losses in the Maui Invitational last week, the Terrapins turned back pesky Indiana 80-68 on Tuesday at raucous Assembly Hall.

It was the fifth straight year Maryland (5-2) notched a victory in the event, and it alleviated a bit of the pressure building on a team that tumbled from the top 25 after losses to Cincinnati and Wisconsin.

Greivis Vasquez scored 23 points and Landon Milbourne added 19 for the Terps, who overcame a sluggish first half to handle the Hoosiers (3-4).

It was a breakout game for Vasquez, who struggled to establish himself in the season’s first half-dozen games. The senior added eight assists and five rebounds and for much of the second half looked closer to the player who was pegged as one of the top players in the nation in the preseason than at any point last month.

“I’ll take him playing like he did tonight anytime,” coach Gary Williams said.

With the two losses in Hawaii last week and only two more nonconference games against power conference opponents remaining, it was imperative the Terps accomplished something of note. A road victory over the rebuilding Hoosiers would only help so much, but a loss would be especially damaging.

The opportunity for such a pitfall was present from the start. With much of the crowd in this hoops haven clad in white and eager to move on from last season’s 6-25 disaster, the Hoosiers were energized for their first home game against a name opponent this season.

The Hoosiers exploited the turnover-happy Terps, shredding Maryland’s defense while allowing the Terps to continue to take shoddy shots. With four minutes left before the break, the Hoosiers held a 31-24 lead.

“I think sometimes when you go on the road you have to take the other team’s shot,” Williams said. “Those first 10 minutes, they came after us. There’s no doubt about it. Our press didn’t exist.”

Eventually, Maryland switched to the zone defense that bought it significant success late last season. The Terps quickly pecked away at the Hoosiers’ advantage and took a 35-33 lead into halftime after Vasquez connected on a 3-pointer in the final minute.

“We did a good job keeping our composure and staying tough,” guard Eric Hayes said. “Getting back in the game and getting a two-point lead at halftime was big.”

From there, it was merely a matter of eroding the rebuilding Hoosiers. In Maurice Creek (19 points), Christian Watford (16 points) and Georgetown transfer Jeremiah Rivers, Indiana has a solid nucleus that still can cause fits.

It wasn’t enough, though, to outlast Maryland even with Milbourne and James Padgett dealing with foul trouble and guard Cliff Tucker sitting out with what Williams deemed a “coach’s decision.”

It was Milbourne who closed out Indiana in the final five minutes. The Hoosiers closed within 61-58, but Maryland soon stretched the lead to seven. Milbourne took over from there, first dropping a soft baby hook and later muscling into the paint for a basket while drawing a foul. He completed the three-point play to extend the edge to 70-58, much to the chagrin of the fast-departing crowd.

It was a notable moment on a strong night for the senior, who shuttled in and out as Williams used Jin Soo Choi on defense in Milbourne’s stead.

“It was good, just for the simple fact that we had the number of guys coming off the bench that can bring a good amount of production,” Milbourne said. “If we didn’t have that production off the bench, it would have been a whole other story.”

Indeed, the Terps’ situation would have looked far different with a three-game skid entering Sunday’s BB&T; Classic meeting with No. 3 Villanova. That remains a pivotal game, but not nearly as much scrutiny will be placed upon it after Maryland’s annual triumph against a Big Ten foe.

“I was pleased,” Williams said. “We needed it.”

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