COLLEGE PARK - The Maryland Terrapins concluded the first homestand in their new basketball arena last night by slapping aside one more weakling, as the Duquesne Dukes proved to be another brand of early-season fodder for the defending national champions.
Led by senior guards Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake, senior center Ryan Randle and a stifling defense that forced a staggering 35 turnovers, the 11th-ranked Terps had no trouble running the Dukes out of Comcast Center, 89-39, before an announced crowd of 17,629.
Maryland (3-0) now can set its sights on what promises to be a difficult and revealing December stretch, beginning with Tuesday night's NCAA title-game rematch with Indiana in an Atlantic Coast Conference-Big Ten Challenge contest at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Terps will then move on to the BB&T Classic at MCI Center, where they will face Notre Dame in the first round on Saturday, and could end up playing No. 3 Texas in the championship game. Then, on Dec. 14, No. 7 Florida visits Comcast Center.
The Terps were coming off a 97-49 rout over The Citadel and a season-opening 64-49 victory over Miami (Ohio). By knocking out the Dukes with another shot of authority last night, Maryland became the first Terps team since 1954 to hold three consecutive opponents to fewer than 50 points.
This also marks Maryland's best three-game start in scoring defense since the 1944-45 season, when the Terps surrendered a combined 131 points. That was in the era of the slow-down offense.
"Defense is about working hard, positioning yourself well, wanting to do it," said Blake, who had the 19th double-digit assist performance of his career. "We jumped on them and never let them think they had a chance. We got out there and worked really hard to get in the passing lanes and get our hands on balls and get steals. I think we're a great defensive team so far."
Nicholas scored all of his game-high 19 points in the first half. Randle added 16 points, featuring a succession of dunks, while Blake was at his passing best with a game-high 13 assists. He had 10 in the first half alone.
But this game was mostly about defense and the offense that flowed from it, as the Terps registered 42 points off of turnovers.
It didn't matter which combination of players was on the floor or what alignment Maryland coach Gary Williams called for. The Dukes could hardly get started when they had the ball in their hands. The Terps recorded 24 steals, including a career-high six by senior forward Tahj Holden (four points, two rebounds).
When the Dukes - who hung with fifth-ranked Pittsburgh in their season opener before losing by 15 points eight days ago - were able to run any offense, they weren't allowed to shoot with much proficiency. Duquesne (1-3) shot just 29.4 percent. Maryland has held each of its first three opponents to less than 33 percent shooting.
"I think we respected Duquesne and the players made up their minds they were really going to come out and execute," Williams said. "Our pressure and drop-back defense were both good. We ran good offense for the first 10 minutes of the half, and Steve Blake was sensational. It's also good to see the young guys starting to blend in with the older players. I think we can combine the two groups now without too many problems."
The Terps recorded their 87th consecutive home-court victory against a nonconference opponent. All 13 Terps played, and 11 of them scored. Among the newcomers who got healthy slices of playing time, freshman forward Travis Garrison led the way with 11 points and seven rebounds. Freshman guards John Gilchrist and Chris McCray scored nine points apiece. Freshman forward Nik Caner-Medley added eight points and eight rebounds.
The high scorers for Duquesne were Simplice Njoya, Kevin Forney and Tyler Bluemling, who each had seven points. The Dukes recorded eight assists as a team, or five fewer than Blake managed in 25 minutes.
The contest was over just after it began, as Maryland bolted to an 11-1 lead in the first three minutes. Randle, Blake and Nicholas got the party rolling, making it 17-3 at the 15:23 mark and 50-19 at the half.
And now, after a most encouraging series of warm-up activities, it's time for the Terps to hit the road for the first time and rub up against some top-flight competition. Nicholas, for one, very much looks forward to seeing the Hoosiers again. Indiana recently won the Maui Invitational.
"We've grown a ton, even though it's still early," Nicholas said. "We're playing great defense, but the biggest thing is we're running our offense. Even when there are lots of new guys on the floor, we're still scoring points. Obviously, Indiana is a very good team. We're going in there with a lot of confidence. We need this game to see where we are."