COLLEGE PARK - Just eight seconds into No. 24 Maryland's 112-68 victory over Liberty last night, Terrapins point guard John Gilchrist hit a three-pointer and then pounded the Comcast Center floor with his hands before getting back on defense.
Gilchrist sprinted on and off the court before and after timeouts and even when he went to the bench for extended stretches of a lopsided first half in which the Terps enjoyed runs of 10-0, 16-1 and 17-3, he barely sat down.
At one point, he raised his fist from the bench, glared at all five of his teammates on the court and exhorted each to keep playing hard. And the Terps were up by 33 at the time.
"[Coach Gary Williams] made a challenge to the team," said Gilchrist. "He said somebody had to step up and make us play hard. Any time, Coach says something, I feel like he's talking to me. I feel everybody should feel that way, everybody should take it as a personal challenge."
Gilchrist, who hinted on Monday that he is going to come out more assertive instead of spending the early going trying to get his teammates involved, took four of the Terps' first six shots. He finished with a season-high 28 points, his fifth straight game over the 20-point plateau - a feat last accomplished by Juan Dixon in 2002.
"I told him all great players do things to get the team going, and I thought that happened tonight," said Williams, whose team improved to 8-2 with a matchup against Mount St. Mary's set for next week. "John got off to a pretty good start in terms of being aggressive and I think that helps everybody be aggressive."
The junior point guard was so excited for last night's game that he was uncharacteristically the first Terp on the court for the pre-game shoot-around, more than two hours before tipoff. He also stayed out there longer than usual, and as a result, fell behind in his pre-game routine. That caused him to join his teammates late in the final warmup, but didn't curtail his aggressiveness in the least.
"As soon as [Coach] stopped talking, I was ready to get my shots up," said Gilchrist. "From the jump ball, I was ready to impose my will on the game, just be aggressive on offense and defense and maybe if the team sees a guy like that, maybe they'll follow. ...
"I knew [Liberty's] confidence would be kind of weary coming out playing against the Terps and I just felt like if we jumped on them early, it would be a cakewalk the rest of the way."
Gilchrist's aggressiveness was a welcome sight for Williams, who has watched his team come out seemingly uninterested and flat at times this season against teams that it should have put away early. But not last night, especially not in the first half as Maryland showed little sympathy for an opponent that came in without a victory over a Division I team.
Five nights after a sluggish victory over American, which included an opening 20 minutes when Williams said nobody in a Maryland uniform played well, the Terps led by as many as 35 in the first half and went into the locker room with a 52-19 lead.
"That's one thing we've never been able to do as a team, maintain emotion when we are up by a lot," said junior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who had 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting to go along with five steals. "When we play like that, it's obvious we're at our best."
By about the three-minute mark of the first half, every available Terp except sophomore walk-on Gini Chukura, who just joined the team in the past couple of weeks, had seen action. He would eventually get in with 3:08 left in the game, but did not score.
Terps freshman James Gist, Chukura's former high school teammate at Good Counsel, had a career-high 14 points. Chris McCray was the fourth Terp in double figures with 13 points and Ekene Ibekwe and Travis Garrison each hit double figures in rebounds.
But it just wasn't the starters who had a good time at the expense of the Flames (1-8), who did get a game-high 30 points (25 in the second half) from sophomore guard Larry Blair.
Terps sophomore center Will Bowers' line included four points, three assists and seven rebounds. Seldom-used senior Mike Grinnon, who had three points all season going into last night, had six, including banking in a Gilchrist alley-oop pass off the glass.
"I was thinking dunk after the game," said Grinnon. "I was greedy. I just wanted to get my points."
It was that kind of night for Maryland, which shot just under 55 percent from the field and out-rebounded Liberty, 61-30.
"We were that team that I always talk about, playing with emotion, up in the passing lanes, out on the fast break and making the game exciting," said McCray. "We played hard for the majority of the game. We didn't play a full 40 minutes, but this was a big step for us."
Next for Maryland
Matchup: Mount St. Mary's (3-5) vs. No. 24 Maryland (8-2)
Site: Comcast Center, College Park
When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)