Ibekwe's 22 Points Fuel the Terrapins

By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006

NEW YORK, Nov. 16 -- Three ice packs covered Maryland forward Ekene Ibekwe's right knee, left knee and left ankle Thursday night, his 6-foot-9, 220-pound frame sprawled out over a chair on the edge of a bare-bones locker room at Madison Square Garden.

As he did throughout the night, he appeared at ease.

Ibekwe had just finished scoring a career-best 22 points -- all in the first half -- to lead Maryland to a 92-60 victory over St. John's in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. The victory puts Maryland in Friday night's championship game against Michigan State, which posted a 63-61 victory over Texas in the second semifinal.

"I was just out there and relaxed," said Ibekwe, who outscored St. John's on his own in the first half. "I wasn't too anxious. I was just playing basketball."

The Terrapins came to New York City hoping to gauge just how much progress they have made since resolving in the spring to become a better defensive team. The answer came quickly. The Red Storm (2-1) made just two of its first 13 field goal attempts on the way to a 7-for-33 (21.2 percent) shooting performance in the first half.

By halftime, Maryland (4-0) had already achieved its primary objectives -- improving defensive intensity and rebounding aggressively. The Terrapins outrebounded St. John's 52-34 and led by 40 points early in the second half.

Still, Maryland Coach Gary Williams tempered his reaction.

"Tonight was a very positive step for us," Williams said. "But again, it's November 16, and we're very aware of what time of year it is."

Maryland's Mike Jones scored 19 points and teammate D.J. Strawberry contributed 18. The two combined to make 5 of 10 three-point attempts. But ultimately, it was Ibekwe's night.

"He's been playing like that in practice," Williams said.

Ibekwe, whose previous high was 21 points against Boston College last December, opened the scoring when he stole the ball from Anthony Mason, then took it down the court for a dunk. He connected on his first five shots and finished the half by scoring his team's last three field goals -- on a dunk, a mid-range jumper and a layup.

Williams said Ibekwe has had a tendency to press too much, showing anxiety in games. Not this night.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company