- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Defense fueled Maryland’s late-season run to the NCAA tournament last winter with a string of performances featuring steady effort and just enough points to get by.

If need be, it would seem the Terrapins could reprise that winning strategy.

Maryland shook off a shaky offensive night and a depleted frontcourt, pulling away from Fairfield 71-42 on Tuesday at Comcast Center.

“It’s still early,” coach Gary Williams said. “I think we’ve worked hard at it to be a good defensive team. You expect your defense to be there every night. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. On a night like this when you don’t shoot it, it better be there.”

It was the fewest points permitted by the Terrapins (2-0) since an 87-38 rout of Maryland-Eastern Shore on Jan. 6, 2004.

Eric Hayes scored 14 points for No. 25 Maryland, which forced the Stags (2-1) into 25 turnovers (against five assists) and a 28.6 percent shooting night.

It was needed, too, considering the short-handed Terps looked disjointed for much of their first game as a ranked team since the 2007 NCAA tournament.

“We rushed a little bit, and we really couldn’t score at first,” guard Greivis Vasquez said. “Then we got it going with our defense, and we ran our break, and then we scored a couple times. That was pretty much the game.”

The offense was choppy at times, showing it could piece together extended spurts against a weary team that very much looked as if it was playing its third game in five days. But some of the problems were merely a matter of limited options.

Williams had little choice but to employ an eight-man rotation. Jin Soo Choi sat out with a right ankle sprain suffered in Friday’s season opener, while Steve Goins (knee) and Dino Gregory (violation of team rules) remained out of action.

The roster issues left little flexibility, and Williams kept Landon Milbourne and either James Padgett or Jordan Williams on the floor for nearly the entire time the outcome wasn’t assured. At times, Sean Mosley (13 points, seven rebounds, four steals) shifted up to the four to provide a breather for Milbourne.

The Terps essentially finished off the Stags in two bursts. After falling behind 12-7, Maryland held Fairfield scoreless for nearly eight minutes and constructed a 10-point lead. Still, Fairfield was within 30-22 at the break as Maryland committed nine turnovers in the first half.

Like in the opener, the Terps fared far better after halftime. They rattled off a 14-4 burst, then maintained their defensive pressure to stymie the Stags.

The offense, though, was a bit of concern for Maryland, which was forced to contend with Fairfield’s constant switching in the early stages of the night. The Terps had 13 assists and 14 turnovers, a striking figure for a team with an entire backcourt back this season.

“We’ve been a little bit of a flux situation in practice where we’re not sure who we have for games,” Gary Williams said. “We’re not able to be maybe as smooth as we’d like to be offensively. Their changing defenses had as much to do with that as anything.”

Ultimately, there could be few complaints. The Terps easily dispatched a team that on paper looked like the season’s most dangerous nonconference visitor to College Park, and Maryland opened a season with consecutive victories of at least 29 points for the first time since 1991-92.

Still, there was little question where the Terps stand - and what must be improved before next week’s Maui Invitational.

“Holding a team to 42 points, that definitely shows our defense is ahead of our offense,” guard Adrian Bowie said.

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