Before Maryland and American met for the second time in 54 years last night, Terrapin Coach Lefty Driesell had been afraid his team might be sluggish -- as it had been in its opener against Navy Friday night, Eagle Coach Gary Williams had worried that the Terps would not be sluggish and would play up to their billing as the fourth-ranked team in the country.
Dreisell, as it tunred out, had nothing to worry about. As a result, Williams' worries proved quite valid. Final: Maryland 95, American 65, in front of 12,539 in Cole Field House.
To win, the Eagles needed a superlative shooting night from their superstar, Boo Bowers. Instead, Bowers almost got knocked unconscious during a collision with Greg Mannng early in the second half and finished with just nine points -- the first time in 52 games he failed to hit double figures. Much of the credit for Bowers' three-of-14 shooting goes to Albert King, who denied him the ball much of the first half and played inside his shirt when Bowers did get the ball.
"Coach told me to overplay him because once he gets the ball he's very tough to stop," said King, quiet himself on offense with just 13 points. "He's not the kind of guy you're going to hold down every night, so I'm glad we were able to do it tonight."
With Bowers cold, AU (0-2) had to depend on Dennis Ross and Ed Sloane, who had 16 point each, for most of their offense. That wasn't nearly enough to overcome the Terps (2-0) who got 21 points and 13 rebounds from Ernest Graham, 19 points and 13 rebounds from Buck Williams, 10 points from Manning and at least two points from each of the 11 men who played.
"I just hope they're the No. 1 or 2 team in the country," said Williams, "because I hope we don't have to play anybody tougher. They really concentrated on what they had to do tonight."
After the Terps' poor first half against Navy, Driesell had been concerned about his team's ability to get up for games against teams with less talent than his own. But last night, from the start, it was apparent the Terps were ready.
"Coach told us in practice over the weekend that we had to play hard against everyone," said Buck Williams, whose inside play was the dominant force in the game. "We worked hard from the beginning tonight. We knew we had to be ready to play."
They were. AU kept it close for four minutes, trailing, 8-7, then the Terps got into their transition game. "When they get going like that," said George Washington Coach Bob Tallent, sitting at courtside, "They're kind of unbelievable."
The Terps went from 8-7 with 16 minutes left to 27-17 with 9:14 left. Then they went into their zone and AU couldn't throw the ball in the ocean -- or the basket -- the next seven minutes. By the time Bowers hit a layup with 2:14 left in the half, it was 43-23 Maryland and American's hopes for a respectable showing were gone.
One statistic tells the story of this game: 55-27. Those were the rebounding totals. In short, even when the Terps did miss, they usually got the ball back and put it right back up. Williams, who shot eight for 11 from the floor, was unstoppable almost every time he touched the ball.
"Last year at this time I was still learning to play inside," he said. "Now, I feel comfortable in there, I'm totally confident. Whenever I get the ball inside I know I'm going to score or get fouled."
Usually, the same can be said of Bowers. Not last night. The eagles had trouble getting him the ball and when they did, Bowers just wasn't having the kind of night his coach -- a 1968 Maryland graduate -- had hoped he would have.
"Part of it was the defense, part of it was the offense," Bowers said. We just never really got into our offense."
Maryland, on the other hand, was in its best offense -- transition -- almost all night. "I always want us in transition if we can get it," Driesell said. "I thought tonight our defense was real good and our shot selection a lot better than against Navy. I was especially happy with Albert's defense. He had Bowers completely locked up."
American did not quit the second half, but never could get closer than 18 as the Terps, even the reserves, kept pouring it on at both ends, shooting 58 percent for the night while forcing the Eagles to hit only 41 percent.
Graham, who plays his best basketball when the Terps are in transition, said it best as the players cut up a cake celebrating win No. 401 for Driesell.
"We need them to get our game in tune for the big games later. I've seen Louisville, De Paul, Notre Dame on TV. I don't know why they're ranked ahead of us because they haven't convinced me yet. We shouldn't fear anybody this year."
If Maryland plays as they did last night with regularity, Graham's boast might be right on the money.