COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland found strength in numbers last night, even if the numbers weren't exactly what the Terrapins wanted.
A night that started with the Terps being christened the nation's 15th best team in the Associated Press' preseason poll ended with a ragged, 97-80 exhibition victory over Court Authority before 8,642 at Cole Field House.
The Terps' new-found bench and their pressing defense overcame foul trouble and erratic shooting to beat the Richmond, Va.-based team.
Maryland struggled to take a 44-40 halftime lead, but slowly pulled away in the second half to win its first game without Joe Smith.
Johnny Rhodes led the Terps' scoring with 20 points and also hauled down 12 rebounds. Duane Simpkins had 16 points and Keith Booth 15 for Maryland, while Rodney Elliott, who started at power forward, had 12 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Overall, Maryland out-rebounded the visitors, 49-43.
Court Advantage's big Dan Plondke had 22 points to lead all scorers, while Eric English added 17.
The Terps threatened to break the game open early in the second half when they scored the first three baskets. A lay-in by Booth, a jumper by Simpkins and a follow shot by Rhodes opened a 10-point lead, 50-40.
But just as quickly, Court Authority got back in the game. Three straight baskets and a free throw by 6-foot-8 Plondke cut Maryland's lead to 52-51.
Plondke, who played at Central Arizona Community College, presented a problem inside all night for the Terps, who got into foul trouble in the first half with their trapping, pressing defense.
Both Mario Lucas and Obinna Ekezie picked up three fouls in the early going, and the inside load fell largely on Elliott, a 6-8 sophomore from Dunbar, and Rhodes, a 6-4 senior guard.
Neither team could brag about its shooting. Maryland was 31 of 65 for .477 on the night, while Court Advantage was 25 of 71 for .352.
Maryland opened a six-point lead, 65-59, with a layup by LaRon Profit on a 3-on-1 break. But two layups by Court Authority cut the lead to 65-63.
An alley-oop pass from Simpkins to Booth resulted in a thunderous dunk and 67-63 lead for Maryland. Then Matt Kovarik drove the lane for a basket to push the lead back to six at 69-63.
Simpkins set up Lucas for a layup to make it 72-65 with 5:49 left. Moments later, Booth stole the ball, went in for a layup and cashed in a foul shot to make it 75-65 as Maryland's press began taking its toll.
A jumper by Booth and three points from Ekezie opened an 81-70 lead with just over three minutes left.
Maryland emerged from a ragged first half with a 44-40 lead, thanks to an 8-1 start and a 14-7 spurt at the end. In between, Court Authority hit five three-point shots -- three by 6-foot-2 guard English -- and led by three (33-30) with 4:30 left in the half.
Court Authority, which has beaten James Madison and Navy on its tour of the Atlantic seaboard, got 11 points from Vince Wilson and nine from English and Plondke in the first half.
A 19-8 run gave Court Authority a four-point lead (20-16) halfway through the first half.
Meanwhile, Maryland's trapping defense kept the pace fast and a bit too furious. Lucas picked up his third personal foul in the game's first 11 minutes, and reserve Ekezie collected his third with 4:30 to play.