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Terps Pick Up Pace, Finish Off the Eagles

Maryland Grabs Control With Run in Second Half: Maryland 82, American 61

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2004; Page D01

Comcast Center was quiet, but Maryland's players weren't. The Terrapins sprinted into the locker room at halftime last night holding a two-point lead that Gary Williams knew they were fortunate to possess. American clearly had outplayed the home team.

Before Williams even entered the locker room, players had spoken and vowed to play with a ferocity absent in the first half. True to their word, the Terrapins were more intense, wearing down the Eagles in an 82-61 victory before 17,950.

John Gilchrist, shooting over Linas Lekavicius, finished with 20 points, his fourth straight game with at least that amount. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

"I think we might have been a little too relaxed coming into the game," Nik Caner-Medley said. "A little nonchalant. That's unacceptable."

It clearly wasn't the ideal way for the 24th-ranked Terrapins (7-2) to enter a holiday break. American played with a scrappiness in the first half that reminded Williams of his American teams in the early 1980s. As for Maryland, Williams said "there was no sense of urgency on our part" in the first half.

"I don't think anyone played well in the first half," he added.

Maryland needed a 16-0 run midway through the second half to finally grab control from the Eagles (5-3).

John Gilchrist scored at least 20 points for the fourth straight game. Fifteen of his 20 points came in the second half, when he ran the offense well, according to Williams.

Gilchrist said the difficulties in the first half weren't caused by not being motivated to play American. Instead, he said there were plenty of other distractions.

"We were coming off finals and the break was coming up," Gilchrist said. "A lot of guys were thinking about Christmas. I know I personally was. It was just like one last stop before we get to see our families. That was the most difficult part, but we got through it."

Maryland's second-half run was keyed by a James Gist alley-oop dunk, a Gilchrist layup in transition and a D.J. Strawberry three-pointer. The surge turned a two-point game into a 66-48 Terps lead, their largest advantage of the game at that point.

The Terps relied heavily on their press during the run, taking advantage of their depth.

"I think we got worn down," American Coach Jeff Jones said. "Maryland just kept coming at us and I think Gary saw that we looked a little bit tired and put on the press and we didn't respond."

Maryland center Ekene Ibekwe missed a dunk in the final minutes that would have given Maryland five double-digit scorers for the sixth time in nine games.

One positive for Maryland was that Sterling Ledbetter, the junior college transfer, checked in in the final two minutes and played for the first time this season. "That was important," Williams said.

From the start, the game had a frenetic feel. The Eagles scored 12 points in a little more than four minutes. By the time guard Jason Thomas sank his third three-point shot, which put American up 15-11, the crowd was hushed and Jones's team was confident. Thomas emphatically hollered "Let's go!" with a dash of brashness after his third three-pointer.

All of three minutes elapsed before Williams summoned for Gist to replace Ibekwe, who was guilty of defensive lapses. Overall, the entire Maryland team's defense was porous early on.

Linas Lekavicius, a 5-foot-11 native Lithuanian, penetrated on Gilchrist and converted a short bank shot high off the glass. Throughout, Maryland enjoyed a significant rebounding advantage, 44-28, but Sekou Lewis's follow-up dunk gave the Eagles an early six-point advantage.

"There are still some things I have to figure out about this team," Williams said.

Terrapins Note: Landon Milbourne, a 6-foot-6 junior small forward from Georgia who has orally committed to the Terps, attended the game. "I've always wanted to come to Maryland since I was a little kid," Milbourne said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company