Maryland 88,

Nicholls State 56

Instead of eighth-ranked Gonzaga, Maryland faced a team that comprises nine freshmen and one starter taller than 6 feet 5. Instead of shadowing an all-American, guard Chris McCray covered a 180-pound premed major.

The 23rd-ranked Terrapins knocked around Nicholls State, 88-56, yesterday in their first game since returning from their three-day run in the Maui Invitational. Yesterday's precipitous drop in competition matched the dip in motivation that Coach Gary Williams said he saw from players.

Williams characterized some as "not really ready to play" and said the Terps (4-1) relied merely on superior talent to beat the Colonels, who had been defeated by three other power conference schools -- Indiana, Louisiana State and Penn State -- by an average of 39 points this season.

Some players appeared surprised by Williams's assessment of their effort level, but they agreed that their performance must improve Wednesday, when the Terps host Minnesota (2-0) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

"You don't watch this tape, you don't do anything," Williams said. "You just get ready for Minnesota. We played at a pretty high level in Hawaii. Once you do that, that's what you go after."

There were some positives yesterday. D.J. Strawberry tallied a career-high 12 assists to go with zero turnovers in 25 minutes. Maryland committed six turnovers in the game's first 39 minutes -- which included three offensive fouls -- even though Williams used all 12 of his players during the rout.

The Terps went almost 18 minutes in the second half without committing a turnover. In all, Maryland finished with eight, albeit against a Nicholls State team (1-4) that employed a sagging defense and rarely contested passes.

After a seemingly endless flight, the Terps returned home to an announced crowd of 17,950, but Comcast Center was a bit more than half full.

While McCray, who finished with a team-high 20 points, said he was still getting acclimated to East Coast time, Strawberry shrugged off the notion of fatigue.

"I think we had the emotion early then we lost it," Strawberry said. "We gained it back when the second half started and we started pressuring the ball. . . . It started becoming fun when the second half came."

The Terps had few problems early. Midway through the first half, Maryland had made more field goals (12) than Nicholls State attempted (11). Nik Caner-Medley, who finished with 16 points, scored seven straight during a key first-half run, during which he plowed over a few seats on the Nicholls State sideline while pursuing a loose ball.

Despite spurts of intensity, Maryland led by only nine at halftime against a school that was nearly a consensus preseason choice to finish last in the Southland Conference. Nicholls State had as many turnovers (11) as made baskets at the break, but felt it still had a chance.

"We were delighted to find ourselves in the game at halftime," Nicholls State Coach J.P. Piper said.

The Terps displayed an aggression during the opening four minutes of the second half that resembled how they played for the most part in Maui. Maryland unleashed a 16-0 run, keyed largely by center Ekene Ibekwe, who scored nine of his 15 points during the stretch.

"I just wanted to get everybody fired up," said Ibekwe, who made 7 of 10 shots. "We started playing hard defense. I was being real active on the press. That's what my team needs, to show a presence."

Ibekwe is becoming the primary interior scoring threat for Maryland, and the Terps looked for the junior on their first two possessions for consecutive baskets to start the game.

Wednesday will be a much tougher test for Maryland, even though Minnesota will be without its leading scorer, Vincent Grier, who is sidelined with a broken finger. Ibekwe played against Grier years ago and expects a contentious game even in his absence.

"We're definitely going to be up for this game," Ibekwe said.

"That's what my team needs, to show a presence," said Ekene Ibekwe, who scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting.