Down the road, it will be viewed as just another early season blowout, fourth ranked Maryland destroying little Wagner, 96-73, tonight in the first round of the Carrier Classic.

But looking beyond the final score, looking beyond Saturday's 9 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7) tournament final with Syracuse -- now 2-0 after an 81-65 win over Kent State -- and looking beyond the Terrapins' 3-0 record, this may have been the most significant night.

Tonight, while most of the 13,723 who stuck around yawned, three important things happened to the terps.

First, as Ernest Graham put it: "We found out that if we mess around, we can get our butts kicked."

Second, junior college transfer Charles Pittman emphatically confirmed he is a major college talent, scoring 17 points in a 21-minute stint forced upon him when Buck Williams had early foul trouble.

Third, this was the night Greg Manning became Greg Manning again. The 6-foot-1 senior sharpshooter had not played well in the Terp's first two victories, shooting only six for 15 from the floor while looking unsure of himself on his normally silky smooth jump shot.

Tonight, after three straight nights of extra shooting practice under the eye of Coach Lefty Driesell, Manningscored a carrer-high 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the floor and seven of seven from the foul line.

It was Manning, whose baby face belies his go-for-the-jugular court instincts, who got the Terps going on a night when, "Things were starting to look awful grim," according to Graham. Manning made his last four field goals in the first half when Williams (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Albert King (11 points, nine rebounds) were watching from the bench with three fouls each.

Wagner (2-1) is not a bad basketball team. The Seahawks are small, but they are aggressive, playing a scrappy, hawking, 1-3-1 zone that gave the Terps trouble the first 14 minutes largely because King was going one for four the first half and Graham two for 10.

"We wanted to try and make their point guards try and shoot the ball and we wanted Albert to shoot outside rather than go to the hole," Wagner Coach P. J. Carlesimo said. "We knew Manning was a great player, and we had to come out on him. We did, but he killed us anyway."

With 12 points the final seven minutes of the first half, Manning, along with some scrappy point guard play by Dutch Morley, keyed a 17-9 Maryland spurt that produced a 41-32 halftime lead, not bad after King and Williams played a total of 15 minutes.

Then, during the first nine minutes of the second half, Manning added 11 more and had three assists on transition as the Terps, their starters back in the game, blew to a 66-42 lead that decided the issue as they warmed the ice-cold dome by shooting 62 percent the second half.

"They did a good job getting us in foul trouble and plugging away the first half," Driesell said of Wagner. "They're a scrappy little team. If Greg hadn't gotten going it might have been real tough."

Driesell deserves some of the credit for getting Manning going. Three nights this week he and Manning stayed after practice, the coach watching the player shoot jump shot after jump shot.

"I must've shot about 200 extra shots each night," Manning said. "When you're going bad, it's hard to analyze your own shot. You need somebody else watch you to pick up what you're doing wrong."

Driesell saw three things wrong: the way Manning was setting his feet before releasing; his follow-through, which wasn't complete, and -- off game films -- a tendency to look for the drive before the jumper. Manning is a jump shooter, not a driver, and Driesell reminded him of that.

"He got me straightened out, showed me what I was doing wrong with my feet," Manning said. "Tonight I felt better even though I still got caught in between a couple of times and got called for traveling."