As an opponent, Maryland-Eastern Shore wasn't much last night at Burr Gymnasium. But as practice partners, the Hawks did just fine.

Howard, casting an eye toward next week's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament in Philadelphia, tried out a myriad of player combinations and offensive and defensive alignments en route to a 96-71 win over UMES before a crowd of 1,125.

Led by 14 points each from Fred Hill and Robert McIlwaine, the Bison (18-8, 11-2 in the MEAC) ended their two-game losing streak and remained tied with North Carolina A&T for the conference lead. More important, the easy win gave Howard Coach A.B. Williamson the chance to experiment.

"That's what this kind of game is for," Williamson said. "We tried to work on our continuity, especially on offense, and it gave us the chance to give some of our guys some extra playing time . . . Our tournament is going to be very close, so we need to know what we have going in."

Nine of Howard's 11 players played at least 10 minutes and every player scored. The Bison shot 51 percent from the field (33 for 65) and forced UMES to turn the ball over 18 times.

"We weren't very competitive," said Hawks Coach Howie Evans, whose team is 3-23, 2-11. "But Howard also played a very tough ball game."

Derek Caracciolo had 13 points for Howard, Earl Smith and Robert Jones scored 12 each. Reserve guard William Stuart, who played almost the entire second half, had six assists.

"We just wanted to go out and execute our offense," said Hill, who also had four assists and two steals. "After those two losses, we wanted to build our confidence back up."

Marvin Blye led the Hawks, who have lost 11 straight, with 21 points. UMES shot only 42 percent from the floor and trailed throughout.

Howard's string of 11 straight wins over UMES was never in jeopardy last night. The Hawks opened the game by making just one field goal in the first 7:59, missing eight shots and turning the ball over six times, allowing Howard to build a 43-31 halftime lead.