COLLEGE PARK - If Gary Williams had foreseen that Travis Garrison and Ekene Ibekwe would have responded this well to a seat on the bench, he might have yanked them from his first five in December.
Four nights after they came off the bench at Duke, Maryland's most experienced big men delivered another pair of clutch performances. In Durham, N.C., their free throws sealed what appears to be a season-turning win. Last night against Georgia Tech, Garrison and Ibekwe gave the Terps the inside presence they've been lacking.
Garrison got his starting job back and collected a career-high 15 rebounds, the most by a Maryland player in nearly two years. Ibekwe again subbed for Will Bowers, but immediately asserted himself at the offensive end, scoring 14 points and complementing Garrison with nine rebounds.
"Travis was a man out there," Williams said of his junior forward. "Players worry about who's starting, but coaches don't. We're more interested in who finishes. If you notice, Ekene's been out there a lot at the end of the last two games."
Through six league games heading into last night, Maryland was the worst rebounding team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It enjoyed a 48-39 bulge on the Yellow Jackets, as Garrison established position under the defensive glass the way a 6-foot-8, 238-pound player is supposed to.
He's hitting 42.1 percent from three-point range this season, but when the three amigos on the perimeter combine for 50, as Nik Caner-Medley, Chris McCray and John Gilchrist did last night, it's paramount that Garrison tend to his first priority, cleaning up near the basket.
"Rebounding, defense, loose balls, whatever Coach needs me to do, I have no choice but to do that," Garrison said. "It's what the team needs. It's what the coach wants."
Garrison came in averaging 6.4 rebounds. Before the Duke game, he heard about desire from ex-Terps Juan Dixon and Laron Profit, but is schooled on that tangible every day from assistant coach Keith Booth, probably the grittiest inside player Williams has ever had.
Ibekwe made sure Tech never got closer than one possession in the last seven minutes.
Maryland was wobbling when he converted a three-point play for a 66-60 lead with 7:22 left. At the other end, 7-1 Luke Schenscher then had two put-back attempts - 10 of Tech's 14 offensive rebounds came in the second half, most off desperation three-pointers - but Ibekwe rejected both. He had four of the Terps' six blocks.
The 6-9 sophomore from California replaced Bowers in the fourth minute and announced his entry immediately, as he dunked off a pass from McCray and gave the Terps a 10-8 lead they never surrendered. A little more than a minute later, he drew Schenscher's second foul, and the Australian took a seat for the rest of the half.
Strong turnaround jumpers in the lane and 5-for-7 shooting gave Ibekwe his most productive game since November, when he had 21 points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Wisconsin.
"I should have gotten one more [rebound], get a double double," Ibekwe said.