COLLEGE PARK - Like a ghost of Christmas past, the memory of Maryland's loss to American had gnawed at the Terps for the better part of a year. It was a confidence-rattling specter that wouldn't go away.
Until perhaps now.
By beating American, 67-51, last night - exactly one year since last season's disaster, and on the same court - the Terrapins might finally have expelled their nightmare before Christmas.
Last season, the somnolent Terps went nearly 11 minutes in the first half without a field goal. Last night - as if not wanting to leave any doubt - Maryland stormed to an 11-0 lead. More than six minutes had elapsed by the time Jordan Nichols converted a layup for American's first score.
The Terps avoided another upset by raising their defensive pressure relative to last year's game and coming out higher and more aggressively on American's diminutive but dangerous senior guard duo of Derrick Mercer and Garrison Carr.
Maryland coach Gary Williams said the key was his team's second-half pressure. Aided by defense, the Terps went on a 19-5 run in the second half to take a 65-42 lead.
"They beat us last year. It was the same exact situation, and they were a year older," Williams said. "You try to win a game any way you can."
He said last night's strategy - and it seemed to work - was to wear the Eagles down with the press.
Carr had four of American's 15 turnovers. The Terps scored 23 points off turnovers, compared with American's eight.
Carr (11 points) and Mercer (12 points) still did their damage in spots. But, this time, the Terps always seemed to have an answer. Unlike last season, Maryland generally played like a team that knew it could lose if it didn't play with urgency.
Forward Landon Milbourne, who had been stunned to hear boos as he walked off the court after last season's game, scored 14 points, had five rebounds and appeared far more poised than last season, his first as a starter. In last year's game, Milbourne scored four points and missed seven of eight from the field.
Maryland's other forward, Dave Neal, also scored 14. Neal had two points in last season's game, his first since suffering a shoulder injury five weeks earlier.
Maryland was led early on by Neal. The Terps repeatedly freed Neal by kicking the ball inside and then passing back out to him at the three-point line. Neal's 12 first-half points included a pair of three-pointers.
"Greivis [Vasquez], being the star player, he's going to penetrate and the defense is going to collapse on him," Neal said. "I'm capable of hitting the open shot. Greivis said, 'Keep shooting.' "
Maryland took a 35-27 halftime lead, then pulled away.
The Terps didn't ease the pressure until they had taken their biggest lead of the game, 65-42, on Vasquez's layup. The basket followed Sean Mosley's block of a shot by Mercer - a play that elicited one of the loudest cheers of the night from a crowd eager for vengeance.
"We had taken over the game before that [block], but it got the crowd into it," Mosley said.
PLAY IT AGAIN
Keys to the game
Maryland's defensive pressure and its press rattled American - particularly in the second half. The Terps got 23 points off turnovers.
Did you notice that ...
* Maryland set Comcast Center records by holding American to three free-throw attempts and zero conversions. High Point (Nov. 24, 2006) had the previous low with six free throws and two conversions.
* Freshman Sean Mosley scored one point but made a hustling block and won the praise of coach Gary Williams, who called him a "team player."
Left to ponder
Interesting that the Terps, minus the graduated Bambale Osby and James Gist, came up so much better than last year against essentially the same American team.
BRYANT (1-9) @MARYLAND (8-2)
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM