Maryland 93, Jackson State 57
Midway through the first half, three Maryland reserves showed what Coach Gary Williams expects to be trademarks of this season's team: depth and defense.
Mike Jones and D.J. Strawberry trapped a Jackson State player near halfcourt, provoking an errant pass that landed in the hands of James Gist. The freshman Gist quickly passed upcourt, igniting a fast break. And the rout was on.
Several similar sequences occurred in No. 15 Maryland's 93-57 win over Jackson State before 17,950 at Comcast Center last night, which began with the unveiling of the banner celebrating last season's ACC tournament title. The ceremony was a poignant moment for a Terrapins team that returns all but one of its significant players, all of whom don't expect this season to end until April.
"We are a really interesting team right now," Williams said. "We have some guys that are stepping up; it's not just five guys."
Maryland (1-0) pressured the ball early, forcing Jackson State into averaging a turnover per minute during the first half. In all, Maryland blocked 11 shots, which tied its best effort from last season, and deflected an inordinate number of passes.
The Terrapins displayed their depth throughout, using 11 players in the first half, including seldom-used Mike Grinnon, who has been voted a team captain along with starter Chris McCray. Williams also might have used backup point guard Sterling Ledbetter had he not been sidelined with a bruised calf.
"We played a lot of guys, but that can narrow down," Williams said. "You can't play guys if they don't play well. We had a couple guys, I'm not going to name them, but I didn't think they played particularly well. You have to take a look at that and if that develops a pattern, we're in good enough shape where you can get away with using seven or eight guys."
Another positive was free throw shooting, which was a problem at times last season. Last night, Maryland made 28 of 34 attempts.
"I hate to even talk about it," Williams said. "I thought we lost a couple games from the line last year."
There were some concerns, however minor. Williams predicted throughout the preseason that teams throughout the country would use more zone defense as a result of the recent success of foreign teams against the United States in international competition.
Last night, Jackson State employed a 1-2-2 zone occasionally that flustered Maryland into shooting 30 percent in the first half. Maryland made its first five shots of the second half and then had a 21-3 run that put the game out of reach.
Jackson State (0-1) is a middling team in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, one of the nation's weakest leagues. In a comparative matchup last night, Georgia Tech beat Alabama State, the favorite in the SWAC, 74-37.
The Terrapins' performance was little more than preparation for the next two weeks, during which Maryland could face as many as three ranked nonconference opponents, namely Memphis, Wisconsin and Michigan State, a possible opponent in the BB&T Classic. "We played good tonight, but we can't accept it. We have to get better with the tough games we have coming up," said Travis Garrison, who scored a career-high 21 points.
Maryland's defense appeared lax only briefly in the first half, when Jackson State surged on a 9-2 run to cut the advantage to eight. The operative word, though, was briefly, because the Terrapins' defense sparked much of the offense. On one sequence, Garrison passed ahead to a streaking Strawberry, who converted the transition layup despite a defender tugging at his jersey. On another occasion, John Gilchrist scrapped on the floor for a loose ball, passed ahead to Gist, who found Ekene Ibekwe for a crowd-pleasing dunk. "They should be a top 10 team," Jackson State Coach Tevester Anderson said. "They're better than a top 15 team."