COLLEGE PARK -- Showtime came to Cole Field House yesterday. There was the half-court lob pass from Keith Booth to Johnny Rhodes for a dunk. There was Joe Smith, blocking a shot at one end and throwing it down at the other. And, finally, there was Mario Lucas putting an exclamation point -- the 100th for the University of Maryland basketball team -- with a basket-hanging dunk in the final seconds.
Starting slowly against North Carolina State after a week's layoff, the 25th-ranked Terrapins picked up steam late in the first half and rolled over the Wolfpack in the last eight minutes of the second half. By the time the dunking stopped, Maryland had a 102-70 victory, and a sellout crowd of 14,500 had high-fived itself silly.
The margin of victory was the largest in an Atlantic Coast Conference game by a Maryland team in 20 years, since players named McMillen and Elmore played their final home game in a 110-75 win over Virginia. It was the first time in three years that the Terps had scored 100 or more in an ACC game, since a 104-100 victory over N.C. State during the 1990-91 season.
The victory also gave Maryland (11-3, 4-1) its best start in the ACC in 10 years, and kept the Terps, picked to finish near the bottom of the league for the third straight year, close to the top. Maryland is tied with Virginia for second place behind Duke, which plays the Terps on Saturday in Durham, N.C.
"Maryland," Wolfpack coach Les Robinson said, "is everything they have been built up to be."
And, as usual, so was Joe Smith. The freshman center set the tone for Maryland emotionally and led the Terps statistically. While Smith's line was pretty impressive -- 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting, 13 rebounds, five steals and four blocks -- he certainly had plenty of help.
Aside from Smith, Maryland had five players in double figures. Sophomore forward Exree Hipp had 17 points -- including 13 in the second half -- and five assists. Sophomore point guard Duane Simpkins scored in double figures for the seventh straight game, finishing with 16 points, three assists and no turnovers. Lucas, also a sophomore, came off the bench for 16 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Johnny Rhodes had 10 points, six assists and five rebounds.
"I thought we were fortunate to catch N.C. State when we did," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "They were coming off a tough game Thursday night [a 92-65 loss to Duke]. Next time the schedule-makers won't be so kind."
Or the officials. Maryland benefited from a technical foul called against N.C. State guard Curtis Marshall after the Wolfpack had cut a couple of 11-point deficits to 32-27. By halftime, the Terps had their lead back to 13, 45-32. The technical foul was not decisive, but it sort of summed up N.C. State's frustration.
"We were trying to stay above water," Robinson said, "and then you get hit over the head."
Or dunked. It was a dunk -- one of 10 by the Terps -- that started a 24-9 run to turn a comfortable lead into a blowout. Coming out of a timeout after N.C. State (5-10, 1-4) had trimmed what had been a 21-point lead to 69-55, Lucas threw a length-of-the-court pass to Hipp, who caught the ball under the basket, came back to jam it in and was fouled.
Asked when the last time Maryland worked that play successfully, Williams said, jokingly, "Yesterday in practice. We like to have some fun in practice. We have some plays where we dunk if everything goes perfect. We're ready if they're there, but they're not there all the time. They're good plays because they're aggressive plays. We're taking the ball to the basket."
The Terps had four straight dunks in one stretch, including a rare jam by Rhodes. It was his first this season, and the second of his career for a player who is content to take layups on breakaways. But this time he had no choice after Booth, who pulled down a rebound, made a behind-the-back move up-court and fired a perfect lead to a flying Rhodes.
"If I knew it was Johnny, I wouldn't have thrown the pass because he doesn't like to dunk," Booth said, kidding. "I thought it was Ex [Hipp]."
Rhodes said: "It was a perfect pass. I didn't have a chance to do anything but dunk it."
Yesterday's game was not only the stuffs of dreams for the Terps and their long-suffering fans, but the coming-out for Lucas. The 6-8, 230-pound forward from Memphis, who has shown flashes during his brief Maryland career, finally looked like he belonged in the ACC.
Playing for a foul-plagued Booth in the first half, Lucas scored nine points in eight minutes and helped Maryland take control by halftime. And coming in after Smith was inadvertently poked in the eye, Lucas threw his weight around in the second half.
"I've been struggling with my shot," said Lucas, who was shooting 37.7 percent and averaging fewer than five points. "When I missed my first two jump shots, I started to go inside. Joe was getting the ball and scoring, so I said, 'Why not me?' "
The answer was as resounding as Maryland's victory.