University of District of Columbia's Earl Jones watched the first 7:19 of last night's game against Maryland-Eastern Shore; he was benched for missing a class earlier this week.

But the 7-foot freshman wasn't missed. The Firebirds led from the start and thumped the mistake-prone Hawks, 93-76, before 1,000 fans at D.C. Armory.

In winning its eighth straight game, UDC (13-7) took advantage of 12 first-half turnovers and 25 percent shooting from the floor to rush ahead of UMES, 43-21, after 20 minutes.

As usual, Jones (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Michael Britt (25, 15) led the Firebirds. Mike Daniels scored 14 points and Weaver Blondin had 11. Jones, who also blocked seven shots and had four assists, said he was mildly surprised when Coach Wil Jones told him to take a seat after the pregame introductions.

"They called my name to start but then coach told (James) Neal to go out on the court," Jones said. "It's been a long time since I haven't started. But I missed a class and one of our rules is you can't miss class and play."

Before James entered the game, all five UDC starters scored as the Firebirds took a 14-8 lead. Twenty seconds after Jones came in, he scored on a 10-foot jumper from the base line. After three minutes, he had six points, four rebounds and a block and UDC led, 22-9. After six minutes, he had nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks and his team was ahead, 34-15.

"We're supposed to be tough so we try to come out hard, get the psychological edge on the teams," said the UDC coach. "We won eight in a row 'cause we're not in a hurry anymore. We're playing much better as a team and we've cut out that stardom status. The great players or the stars always show up. You can put Pete Rose anywhere on the field with anybody and before long you'll know he's the star."

The Firebirds play Morgan State in their final home game of the season at D.C. Armory tonight at 8.