Maryland's three suspended players made their return to the team widely known last night, the guilty parties engaging in a 91-44 rout of unsuspecting University of Maryland-Eastern Shore to announce their arrival.
It wasn't any use counting the points, because they kept mounting. It was more entertaining to count the show-time dunks as Len Bias, Jeff Baxter and John Johnson returned following the suspension Coach Lefty Driesell issued last Friday for breaking curfew.
"It felt extremely great to be back," Baxter said. "Just warming up was enough. We had to play that well out of respect. We had to come out and play as well as we possibly could, prove that nothing was wrong, everything was behind us."
The Terrapins (14-11) had 13 points from Bias, who was obviously overjoyed to be back but remained curt on the subject of the suspension he and the other two players incurred for leaving the team hotel after Maryland's 67-66 victory over North Carolina State on Thursday night.
"Right now, it's out of my mind," Bias said. "I can't even remember what happened. I didn't feel like I had anything to prove."
Bias played only 20 minutes, and the rest of the starters made equally brief appearances as the game quickly got out of hand before a crowd of 5,120. Nevertheless, five Terrapins were in double figures.
"I felt tight," Bias said of the effects of the absence, which caused the three players to miss Saturday's game at Clemson.
Johnson, a freshman, led the Terrapins with 15 points. Tom (Speedy) Jones had 13 points and Baxter and freshman David Gregg had 10 each. Guard Donnell Boney scored 17 points for Eastern Shore (3-19).
Maryland point guard Keith Gatlin had eight points and 12 assists. The junior has 514 career assists, tying him for first place on Maryland's all-time list with John Lucas.
"It was nice," Gatlin said. "Our timing was about the same, maybe just a little bit off. I felt for the guys. Now everyone is back, everyone is happy."
Maryland led by 44-22 at the half and outscored Eastern Shore by 30-12 over the first nine minutes of the second half to build a 40-point lead. Gregg, a center, gave the Terrapins the margin when he hit a short hook to make it 74-34 with 7:06 left. That left it almost entirely to the freshmen, Maryland finishing it with five of them on the floor.
The Terrapins won this one in every statistical category. They outrebounded the Hawks by 43-23 and capitalized on 23 turnovers, 15 of which came in the first half. The Hawks shot 29 percent in the second half and 35 percent for the game to Maryland's 63 percent.
It was the kind of confidence builder the Terrapins needed to recover from the suspensions, which had interrupted them just as they seemed about to jell. Without Bias, the 10th-leading scorer in the nation, and two of its top three guards in Baxter and Johnson, Maryland had suffered a 70-60 loss at Clemson Saturday that hurt its outside chance at an NCAA tournament bid.
"That was a good way to relax," Driesell said of last night's romp. "They know it's behind them. We're playing ball now and it's history."
Still, Maryland probably could have used some better competition to work against with the last crucial stretch of its schedule coming up. The Terrapins have four Atlantic Coast Conference Games left, starting with No. 1 North Carolina on Thursday at Chapel Hill, followed by a meeting with No. 5 Georgia Tech at Cole Field House on Saturday.
"A better test probably would have helped," Gatlin said. "We lost momentum, but hopefully we got back in the swing tonight. Carolina is going to be a completely different game."
Maryland finishes its regular season next week by traveling to the ACC's last-place team, Wake Forest, followed by a meeting with Virginia at Cole in what could be an important battle for fifth place in the conference.
"Every game is a must," Driesell said. "We certainly have incentive for our last four games. If we can win three of them, I think we'll definitely get (an NCAA) bid, and probably if we can win just two of them. But we've got to play every one like the NCAA championship."