COLLEGE PARK -- After watching his Maryland basketball team struggle at times before beating UMBC Thursday night, Gary Williams warned his players about the dangers of taking heavy underdogs lightly.
Judging by the way they dismantled lightly regarded Morgan State last night before 13,028 at Cole Field House, the Terps must have listened closely to their coach.
With quickness, depth and fierce defensive pressure in its corner, Maryland sprinted to a 14-0 lead to set the tone. From there, the Terps turned in their most productive first half of the season, then sent the winless Bears back to Baltimore with an 85-62 pounding.
"We came out sluggish in that UMBC game, and Coach Williams stressed that we can't do that," said freshman forward Keith Booth, whose 11 points and nine rebounds helped improve the Terps to 5-0.
"In order to be one of the top teams in the country, we've got to come out and go hard from the opening tap. He [Williams] has been on us since halftime of the UMBC game about that."
The Terps responded by pummeling a team that was ripe for a blowout. The Bears (0-3), who had struggled offensively in their previous two games, were without forward Terrence Hunter (knee injury) and Brandon Parker and Jarrad Smith (both academically ineligible).
The Terps swarmed all over Morgan State, forcing 25 turnovers and holding the Bears to 29 percent shooting. Meanwhile, five Maryland players scored in double figures.
Sophomore forward Exree Hipp led all scorers with 19 points, including an assortment of dunks that brought the near-sellout crowd to its feet. Freshman center Joe Smith scored 15 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked four shots. Sophomore guard Johnny Rhodes turned in another versatile performance, scoring 15 points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds. Freshman forward Nick Bosnic came off the bench to score 13 points.
Scott Deas led Morgan State with 17 points.
"I think we're coming. I think we're going to be a better basketball team by Jan. 5 [the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule]," Williams said. "With the youth of our team, I don't think you can ask much more of them. Tonight, we got off to a good start with our pressure, and Morgan State never had a chance to get back in the game."
The Terps staged a near-flawless exhibition in the opening 30 minutes.
Their trapping, man-to-man defense forced most of Morgan State's 17 first-half turnovers and harassed the Bears into shooting a horrendous 18.4 percent. At the offensive end, the Terps overwhelmed Morgan State by working the ball crisply for open shots in its half-court attack, and by burning the Bears with assorted dunks off of their fast break.
"We were horrible in the first half," Bears coach Michael Holmes said. "We knew they were going to press us, but we just stood around in awe of them."
In the final two minutes of the half, Smith and Hipp exchanged slams, as the Terps headed to their locker room with a 52-23 lead. It was the most points Maryland has scored in a half this year.