Terps cruise, set sights on ACC opener Rhodes, Booth spark 104-66 rout of UMES; Tech is next on Wednesday; Angry Hawks coach says game is 'way out of our league'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland punched its meal ticket with a withering defensive press last night, setting the table for bigger, and presumably better, things.

In a game decided by halftime, the Terps swarmed to a school record-tying 17 steals and crushed overmatched UMES, 104-66, before 12,430 at Cole Field House.

Maryland broke the century mark for the second straight game to prepare for Wednesday's Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

"How good we are is hard to tell," coach Gary Williams said after the Terps won their third straight game and fifth in six outings. "It'll be interesting to see where we are [in Atlanta]."

They were cruising after a 59-point, 13-steal first half that left the UMES coaches shouting at each other on the way to the locker room.

"This game is way out of our league," said UMES coach Jeff Menday, who had words with some of his players and assistant Richmond Weaver on the bench. "I don't like to schedule games like this. We are not ready for this level.

"The one thing that we take away with us from this game is a check for $25,000."

The Fighting Hawks (5-4) had long since lost their poise and the ball. Three freshman guards helped contribute to 31 turnovers.

It was a night of fine-tuning for the Terps (6-3). Johnny Rhodes scored 22 points, shooting 9-for-12, with six assists and five steals. Mario Lucas fired for 17 points off the bench. Rodney Elliott had 11 points and eight rebounds, tying his career high.

Maryland's trapping defense was so efficient in the first half that the Terps capped a 16-0 run with 12 points in a numbing 55-second burst. That opened a 40-18 lead that settled at 59-31 at halftime.

"We needed games like this to get everyone's confidence up," said point guard Duane Simpkins, whose first of seven assists was the 400th of his Terps career. He became the seventh Maryland player to reach that milestone.

Then there was Keith Booth. The junior forward notched the seventh double double of his career -- and second straight -- with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

Perhaps more significantly, he further distanced himself from a horrendous 1-for-12 shooting performance in the loss to UCLA. Last night Booth hit seven of 14 shots, and, since UCLA, has hit 18 of 33 (54.5 percent).

"Fourteen rebounds is incredible, I don't care who you're playing against," Williams said. "He has really stepped it up for whatever reason."

Booth, who starred at Dunbar, wouldn't link his turnaround to an NCAA investigation into a trip he took to Chicago last spring for a Chicago Bulls playoff game. That investigation concluded during the Terps' West Coast trip.

"It had no effect unless I let it," Booth said. "I knew I had done nothing wrong. It was just something to motivate me. I'm playing more relaxed out there. Prior to this, I was rushing my shots."

At any rate, Booth is averaging 14.6 points and 11.6 rebounds the past three games.

"He's rebounding a lot better now," said Lucas. "He feels every rebound that goes up is his. When his jump shots start falling, the sky's the limit."

Lucas led a bench effort that produced 43 points. Laron Profit scored 10 and Sarunas Jasikevicius had nine. Jasikevicius was replaced in the starting lineup by senior Exree Hipp (six points, two rebounds), though Williams said he wasn't necessarily committed to any lineup.

"I would like to stabilize our lineup, but it's not something that would be set in stone," Williams said.

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