COLLEGE PARK - A season already rife with adversity got a little more difficult for the University of Maryland basketball team yesterday when it was determined that sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
It was exactly the kind of bad break the Terps didn't need going into last night's game against Virginia, but Strawberry's injury provided more inspiration than devastation as Maryland juggled its lineup effectively and got nice efforts from several reserves in an 82-68 win at Comcast Center.
Strawberry, the team's best defender, was injured in practice Monday, and the Terps' medical staff determined the severity of the injury late Tuesday. According to trainer J.J. Bush, Strawberry will have surgery once the swelling subsides and is expected to require six months of recovery time.
"I was coming down on a fast break in practice, and there was a defender in front of me," said Strawberry, who played in too many games this season to be eligible for a medical redshirt. "I tried to give him kind of a quick move, and my knee just shifted out of place. I didn't think it was that bad. I thought my knee just cracked or something. I went back in for a few plays, but it was hurting too much. That's when I knew it was kind of serious."
Strawberry, who sat on the bench in street clothes last night, started just three games this season, but his versatility has made him one of Maryland's most valuable players the past two seasons.
The first player off the bench each night, Strawberry had been serving as the backup to point guard John Gilchrist and shooting guard Chris McCray. He even played some at small forward, especially against teams like Virginia that put three and four guards on the floor at the same time.
"It's going to be a big challenge, because he's an important part of our team in terms of our defense and our intensity level," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "But you've got to adjust. I think Mike Jones is really coming along. He handled the ball well tonight when we needed it. And Sterling Ledbetter is definitely going to play before this thing is over."
Maryland looked like it was in a world of hurt an hour before tip-off, when McCray was unsure if he would play with a bruised tailbone. But when McCray decided to play through pain, it seemed to inspire the Terps' reserves to match his effort.
Jones, who was coming off a 21-point game in Maryland's 80-69 victory over Temple on Saturday, played solid defense and hit his only three-point attempt late in the game to help Maryland pull away.
Will Bowers played strong inside against Virginia's Elton Brown, blocking three shots and keeping several rebounds alive that turned into points for the Terps.
"It was heartbreaking news when we found out D.J. went down," said Bowers, who helped hold Brown to 4-for-18 shooting. "He just works so hard, and when one guy who's the heart and soul of the team goes down, it's tough.
"But Coach told us we have to look on the bright side. D.J. is going to take his time and become a much better basketball player because of this."
Strawberry's absence also could lead to increased minutes for Ledbetter, a highly regarded point guard who transferred from Allegany Community College during the offseason, but who has spent the first part of this season recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident.