Maryland started badly and got worse tonight.

Penn State, a middle-of-the-pack team in the Atlantic 10 Conference, defeated the Terrapins convincingly in their season opener, winning, 97-79, before 8,310 fans in the Civic Center.

Penn State had five players score in double figures, and led by as many as 26 points in a victory that embarrassed Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, who was quite vocal with his disgust afterward. It was only the third opening-game loss for Driesell in his 14 years at Maryland.

"They just beat the devil out of us," Driesell said. "I'm just embarrassed. This is the worst one of my teams has played in my whole coaching career. We were horrible from the first minute; horrible on offense, horrible on defense, horrible ball-handling. You name it.

"If I had paid $7 to watch this I would have booed us when we walked off the court. What else can I say negative? If you can think of something else, then write it."

Maryland led, 13-3, in the first four minutes.

"We were bad, even then," Driesell said. "We never should have been ahead."

Penn State scored 22 of the next 24 points to take a 25-15 lead with 7:17 remaining in the first half.

Maryland closed to 31-29 after two free throws by Adrian Branch, who scored a game-high 27 points. But the Nittany Lions got two three-point shots -- from beyond 19 feet -- and moved ahead, 39-29. They led, 41-33, at halftime.

Maryland center Ben Coleman fouled out with 13 minutes left in the game. But the Terrapins still managed to close to 65-54 with freshman Ed Farmer at the foul line shooting two.

But Farmer missed both shots, and Branch missed a short shot after getting the rebound. Teammate Steve Rivers got the loose ball, but missed a three-point shot. In the next scramble for the ball, Branch was called for a foul. Driesell was called for a technical with 7:27 left, and Penn State capitalized to the fullest.

Lions forward Tom McCluskey made four straight free throws to increase his team's lead to 69-54. On the ensuing possession, State guard Dwight Gibson scored on a layup and a foul shot for a 72-54 lead that went to 74-54 on another Gibson layup.

The Lions (1-0) led by as many as 26 points in coasting to their first victory over Driesell in four tries.

Maryland's most glaring deficiency was at point guard. Sophomore Jeff Adkins, a shooting guard, started as the playmaker. But the team had no direction from the point all evening, which Driesell noted.

"We really didn't have any offense," said Branch, "and what little we did have they chased us out of. And that also hurt our defense because they got a lot of easy shots. We've got to have a leader out there. I'm sure we'll find one before the (Atlantic Coast Conference) season."

Penn State Coach Dick Harter called it his team's biggest victory ever.

"We've beaten better teams than Maryland was tonight," Harter said. "But this has to be the best win because it was so convincing. We had a magnificent run for about 12 minutes in the first half. We played as well as we can play. I think we're pretty good. If we were out there for the next 48 hours, we'd win."