Considering he had just experienced the equivalent of getting flattened by a runaway train, Howard High boys basketball coach Rich Jenkins was in surprisingly good spirits.
"In the long run, this will bethe best thing that's happened to us," said Jenkins, who clung to a positive perspective after visiting Edgewood, Harford County, ran theLions into the parking lot with a 98-69 pummeling Wednesday night.
The Lions, off to their best start in several years, had won fiveof their first six games and were trying to equal last year's victory total. But Jenkins, whose team had played only once in the past twoweeks, expressed concern during pre-game warm-ups about the team's tired look in recent practices. Plus, Jenkins had scouted Edgewood.
So much for a great start.
"I told our kids today they were in for a tough game. I could see this coming," Jenkins said. "We needed a good old-fashioned butt-kicking. I think it will make us better goinginto the county. This game is the best lecture I could have ever come up with."
Edgewood sure gave the spectators plenty to talk about. The Rams (6-1), who brought just eight players to Howard -- two stayed home sick -- assaulted the Lions with deadly outside shooting, fast-break layups, swarming defense, bullish rebounding and hustle thatrendered Howard's height advantage meaningless.
The combination began paying big dividends in the final four minutes of the first half, when Edgewood went on a decisive 13-0 run that had Howard reeling under a 41-24 deficit at intermission.
Then the Rams, who looked loose and refreshed while warming up for the second half, started having fun. They scored 11 of the first 13 points of the third quarter, threw in two slam-dunks during a dizzying 31-point period, then scored on six of their first seven fourth-quarter possessions to bury the Lions in an 85-56 hole midway through the period.
The Rams also knewwhen to lighten up, pulling out of their full-court press early in the fourth period, allowing Howard to trade baskets with them.
"Edgewood is in very good (physical) shape and we aren't," Jenkins said. "I appreciate the coach (Bob Slagle) taking the press off. They probably could have scored 125 points on us."
The Rams shot 53.3 percent from the floor (40-for-75), including a blazing 62.5 percent (20-for-32) in the second half to hit the 90-point mark for the third time this season. Forward Steve Lewis led all scorers with 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting. Point guard Maurice Boone scored 21 with a 10-for-16night. Damon Bomar, Brian Johnson and John Hobbs added 12 apiece.
Edgewood manhandled Howard on the boards, out-rebounding the Lions by a stunning 62-21 margin. Lawrence Worthington led all rebounders with 13. Cornelius Carey grabbed 11. Bomar had 10.
Guard Alec Sutton, who entered the game averaging 19.7 points, was Howard's brightest spot with 22 points and seven rebounds. Dax Matthews added 20. Dave Jones came off the bench to score nine points in the fourth quarter.
"We don't have much height, but we're pretty good in transition," said coach Slagle. "We can get points from a lot of sources. If we canget teams to run with us, we're usually in good shape. We're obviously a good basketball team."
The Lions had no choice but to try playing man-to-man defense and running with Edgewood after the Rams began riddling Howard's zone defense early. Howard led by slim margins inthe opening minutes, but the Lions couldn't contain Lewis and Boone from the opening tip-off.
Lewis and Boone combined for the Rams' first 16 points -- 12 by Lewis. His first three-pointer with 2:38 to go in the quarter gave the Rams a brief 13-11 lead. His second three-pointer seconds later gave Edgewood a 16-13 advantage it wouldn't relinquish.
Howard kept it close for a while in the second period. TheLions got to within 23-21 on an eight-foot turnaround jumper by forward Tim Day with 5:15 left in the half, and trailed by 28-24 with 3:53 to go. Still, one could sense the Lions gradually coming unglued under Edgewood's speed and relentless pressure.
Johnson then hit a wide-open 18-footer, followed by Lewis' three-point play and Boone's 15-footer after a great fake pass. Suddenly, the Rams led, 35-24. Then, Howard's final four possessions produced two air balls and two turnovers, while Carey, Boone and Bomar scored to make it 41-24 at the half.
The Lions were out-rebounded, 32-9, and shot just 36.6 percent (11-for-30) in the first half.
"We played about as well as we could play in the first quarter," Jenkins said. "Our goal at halftime was to cut the lead. We tried everything to slow them down. We tried to press them, but No. 12 (Boone) shredded us.
"This could kill a team that doesn't have a good strong heart, but I think these kids do," he added. "I'm as positive as I can be after losing by 30 points. There's nothing you can say you did wrong except schedule them."