Saturday, November 19, 2005

Like the rest of his teammates, Nik Caner-Medley spent part of his day packing for the Maryland basketball team’s impending trip to Maui. Everywhere he turned, there was a reminder of the gorgeous weather and intense competition that awaits the Terrapins next week.

Those prospects didn’t distract Maryland last night in its season opener, a 111-85 victory against Fairleigh Dickinson at Comcast Center. It was a game that won’t win anyone too many defensive plaudits, but it could serve as a useful springboard for the Terps heading into Monday’s meeting with No. 9 Gonzaga and a possible matchup with No. 4 Michigan State on Tuesday.

“Now we can look ahead,” Caner-Medley said.

If the Terps apply anything from last night’s victory to their business trip in paradise, it would be to maintain their balanced scoring. Guard Mike Jones scored a game-high 22 points, and Chris McCray and Caner-Medley both added 18 points for Maryland.

Ekene Ibekwe (16 points), James Gist (12) and Travis Garrison (11) also scored in double figures for Maryland, which had 25 assists on 36 field goals. It was the first time the Terps cleared the 100-point plateau in a season opener since 1998, when Steve Francis debuted in a 113-46 rout of Western Carolina.

“I was pleased with the way our guys hung together,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “The offense was a very shared offense. We were willing to help each other out scoring. Anytime you get that, you have a chance to score a lot of points.”

Maryland couldn’t put the Knights (1-2) away quickly, but it erased pretty much any doubt early in the second half. The Terps came out of the break with a 52-42 lead, and an 18-footer by McCray and a 3-pointer from Caner-Medley quickly helped open the lead to 59-42.

It was the start of a 26-8 run for the Terps, who stiffened on defense for about 10 minutes after a shaky half. Part of Maryland’s success derived from the cumulative effect of its press, which helped force 17 turnovers but more importantly wore down the thinner Knights, who missed 11 of their first 13 shots in the second half.

“The first half, we were out there just trying to feel out the guys we were playing with,” McCray said. “We got the scouting report, but at the same time it’s not an ACC team so you’re not used to playing against the guys you were checking. In the second half, everyone just got the jitters out and were comfortable.”

The rest of the half turned into a highlight show for the Terps, who received contributions from nearly everyone. Jones completed an 8-for-11 outing with a layup with 4:36 left to give Maryland 100 points for the night.

The final 10 minutes were just a formality, but the same couldn’t be said of a first half in which the Terps’ rotation — or lack thereof — of point guards became apparent. Strawberry played for the first 6½ minutes before yielding to McCray, who presided over a 14-3 Maryland run before Strawberry returned.

Senior Sterling Ledbetter did not enter until almost 16 minutes into the game, while junior college transfer Parrish Brown didn’t play in the first half.

After struggling to handle the Terps’ press in the opening minutes, the Knights regrouped to take a 19-18 lead with 12:20 left in the half. Maryland finally shook its slumber, starting with Jones’ dunk. Center Will Bowers made an 8-footer and later split a pair of free throws before McCray delivered a 3-pointer to put the Terps ahead 26-19.

The victory was the first step in moving past last season, when the Terps missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a dozen years. A few wins in Hawaii would only bolster a team that clearly has plenty of scoring options, though Williams remained cautious about reading too much into his team’s season-opening victory.

“I’m not going to let one game say we’re there,” Williams said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

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