Coach Williams had been concerned about this game coming in, "This is always the game, coming out of exams, that coaches worry about the most." The fact that the Spartans had lost a shootout at Missouri by only 106-98 last weekend added to Williams' concerns.
Maryland (7-2) did not come up with their usual number of turnovers against the Spartans (4-6), forcing 14, but got their transition game working off defensive rebounds. UNC-Greensboro shot a miserable 35.9% from the field, and leading scorer Jay Joseph, harassed by Chris McCray's defensive effort, made only 5 of his 15 attempts.
Nik Caner-Medley, who made 8-15 shots and scored 19 points while also handing out 4 assists, led the Terps in the scoring column. Jamar Smith, who was plagued by foul trouble, missed a double-double for only the second time this season. Smith scored 6 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in only 23 minutes of playing time, but freshman Ekene Ibekwe picked up the slack.
Ibekwe played his best game of the season, scoring 13 points in only 15 minutes on 6-9 shooting. He also pulled down 6 rebounds and came up with 2 steals and a blocked shot. Ibekwe scored both inside and outside and looked very comfortable in the flow of the offense. Coach Williams said, "I think tonight was big for Ekene."
John Gilchrist ran the Maryland offense very efficiently, dishing out eight assists while committing only one turnover. D. J. Strawberry made all three of his shots (now 10 of his last 11) and had two steals, and Mike Jones knocked down both of his three-point shots while grabbing four rebounds in his best outing of the season.
The Spartans stayed with the Terps for a while, trailing only 16-15 with 12:26 remaining in the first half. Maryland then went on a 13-2 run over the next 4:12 to open up a 29-17 lead. Caner-Medley got the Terps started by following a Smith miss, then fed Smith for a layup and knocked down a three-pointer. Ibekwe threw down a dunk following a Strawberry steal then dropped in a smooth jump shot. McCray ended the run with a great individual effort, blocking a Joseph jump shot and finishing with a breakaway dunk.
Maryland could not sustain this momentum, largely due to the effort of UNC-Greensboro forward Jelani Lawrence, who came off the bench to score eight points. Six of those points came on putbacks after Lawrence had grabbed offensive rebounds. As a result, the Terps led by only 42-32 at halftime.
The Spartans gave Maryland fans a few nervous moments early in the second half, cutting the lead to 46-38 moments after Smith went to the bench with his third foul. A furious Coach Gary Williams called a time out, and his team responded with a 17-2 run that put the game away.
McCray started this game-clinching burst with a conventional three-point play following an offensive rebound, then Travis Garrison took a great outlet pass from John Gilchrist and finished a fast break with a thunderous dunk. Ibekwe, filling in for Smith, came up big during this run. He had a breakaway dunk after a steal, a putback following a Gilchrist miss, and knocked down a three-pointer. Before the Spartans knew what hit them, they trailed 63-40 with 11:36 to play. During this stretch, UNC-Greensboro had missed three shots and committed five turnovers.
Coach Williams was pleased with the leadership Caner-Medley showed tonight, "(Leadership) comes from how tough you play, and Nik has given us that several games this year." Caner-Medley said about his team's effort, "You've got to do what you've got to do. You can't make excuses. Everybody has finals." He also took some time to look ahead, "Right now, I'm thinking about spending a day with my family to celebrate the holiday and then getting ready for Florida State."
John Gilchrist added, "I'm proud of the team. I think we're ready for the ACC."
Maryland's first ACC contest comes up on Sunday night at Florida State. The Seminoles are 10-1, having lost Monday night at Pittsburgh. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net at 5:30. We'll get our first indication whether the Terps are ready for the ACC, and if the ACC is ready for them.
Notes From Under the Shell
In keeping with the holiday theme of families coming together, several former Maryland players were in attendance and received warm ovations when they were shown on the video boards during timeouts. Drew Nicholas, Ryan Randle, and Byron Mouton, all members of the 2002 National Champions, were on hand as was Obinna Ekeize, who played from 1996-99.
Gary Williams is now 100-2 in non-conference home games as head coach of Maryland.
Caner-Medley sure loves to start the game by taking the ball to the basket. We'll see if teams start playing off him and force him to pass or make outside shots early, hoping to prevent him from getting into his rhythm.
This was only the second time Maryland has ever played UNC-Greensboro. The Terps also won the first game by a similar 84-55 score at Cole Field House in February, 1992.
I am submitting another entry in the stupid promotion category for Comcast Center games. A local bank gives away money to one fan that is selected when everyone is asked to hold up a check card from that bank. That's fine, but following around Maryland mascot Testudo during this contest is a life sized walking check card. How does a person even put a job like that on their resume? I suppose that would fall under "on-site marketing" or some such description. I just hope the check card mascot does not wander into a frat party late one night. It could get very ugly if a group of students try to jam him into an ATM machine.
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