COLLEGE PARK - For 20 minutes last night, the Maryland Terrapins found themselves in a surprisingly competitive contest with the visiting Monmouth Hawks.
Then, as they have done often in this young season, the third-ranked Terps turned up the heat in the second half. And all the overmatched Hawks could do was shrink, as Maryland won its eighth straight game by blowing out Monmouth, 91-55, before 13,336 at Cole Field House.
In their final tuneup before taking a 10-day break for final exams, the Terps extended the nation's longest nonconference home-court winning streak to 82 games by withstanding a spirited first-half effort by the unranked Hawks, the defending champions of the Northeast Conference.
What a knockout punch Maryland (8-1) delivered, after taking a modest 46-37 lead into halftime. The Terps scored the first 13 points of the second half, then stretched that into a whopping 34-6 run that gave them a lead of 80-43 with 6:28 left.
"We're supposed to do that," said senior forward Byron Mouton, who scored 17 points and was one of five Terps in double figures. "We've got six or seven guys back from last year, and everybody played a major role with that team."
Senior guard Juan Dixon led all scorers with 18 points. Sophomore forward Chris Wilcox recorded his second career double double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Senior center Lonny Baxter added 10 points and nine rebounds. Junior forward Tahj Holden added 11 points.
Maryland scored a season-high 91 points by putting forth some of its best shooting of the year. The Terps converted 52.5 percent of their field-goal attempts, and converted 23 of 30 free throws.
But this rout was about defense, as the Terps took Monmouth's best shot in the first half, then smothered the Hawks.
After making 48.5 percent of its shots in the first half, Monmouth (4-4) had too many tired legs and too few bodies to overcome an inspired Maryland defense. The Hawks missed 17 of their first 19 attempts, and, already down center Keith Owens (knee), they lost backup Steve Bridgemohan to foul problems for lengthy stretches.
Monmouth made only six of 26 field-goal attempts after halftime. Forward Russ Anderson, who gave the Hawks a lift with 12 first-half points, took only two shots in the second half and did not score.
"It was good to see that we picked it up at halftime and played at our defensive level," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps played their second game in three days. "In the first half Monmouth did a very good job. But this is a game where we had the most players, and most of the time the team with the most players wins."
The Hawks got Maryland's attention from the opening tip by making eight of their first 12 shots, partly by running with the Terps in transition, partly by spreading the floor in Princeton-like style.
That helped Monmouth take an early 7-4 lead. It also allowed the Hawks to hang around with Maryland for much of the first half.
After Holden converted a three-point play and Dixon made a three-pointer to give Maryland a 10-7 lead, the Hawks traded baskets with Maryland over the next four minutes, taking a 17-16 lead with 11:50 left when Cameron Milton converted a layup after a blown dunk by Wilcox.
Maryland, which used nine players in the game's first nine minutes, bounced back with a 7-0 run to take a 23-17 lead.
Anderson, despite a chronic hip flexor strain, slowed Maryland with his second three-pointer of the half, but the Terps bore down with a 15-6 run, as four different players scored. Guard Drew Nicholas started the run with a fast-break layup, then finished it by making two free throws to give the Terps a 38-26 lead with 3:37 left.
Anderson would not let the Terps run away. He made two three-pointers in the final minute, including a buzzer beater from the right corner that trimmed Marylands halftime lead to 46-37. Then came the knockout blow.
"Monmouth is pretty good. It's not hard to get up for the No. 2 team [in USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll] in the country," Dixon said. "Coach came in here and gave us a mouthful at halftime, and we just wanted to limit their looks [at the basket] in the second half. I think we did a good job of that."