- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

The fires were out, the tears were gone and the frustrations somewhat abated. Everything was pretty much back to normal in College Park yesterday, which meant the Maryland basketball team was back in town.
It was clear it didn't want to be.
With approximately 200 fans, students and alumni waiting for them in the rain, the Terrapins returned to Cole Field House from Minneapolis a little after 3 p.m. yesterday, still hurting from the 95-84 loss to the Duke Blue Devils in their first Final Four appearance. The Terps had few words for the fans and even fewer smiles after blowing a 22-point, first-half lead and a chance at a national title.
"It just feels like the season's over, and no one wants to dwell on it too much," said senior center Mike Mardesich, one of the few Terps willing to talk. "It's just not that easy to talk about. There's such a finality all of a sudden… . It's going to take awhile [to get over]. But I'm still proud of my team and what they accomplished."
For the second Sunday in a row, fans gathered at the back of Cole. Right away, however, it was apparent this wasn't going to be a celebration, that it was more of a valediction. The team heard cheers upon its arrival from Anaheim, Calif., last weekend, but yesterday the greeting was a gentle applause.
Most of the players got off the bus, collected their things, signed a few autographs and took off heads still hung low. Even junior forward Byron Mouton, with his insatiable appetite for speaking, just wanted to go home. That didn't bother the die-hards, who seemed to understand.
"It was a great year, a typical roller coaster," said Mike Greeves, 37, of Olney, a 1986 graduate who carried a sign that read, "Proud of our historic Terps." "A couple of days from now, they will look back and understand what they accomplished."
What the Terps accomplished was a breakthrough, albeit a somewhat surprising one. Maryland seemed destined for a lost season after a January disaster against Duke in which it blew a 10-point lead in the final minute, which it followed with four losses in the next five games. But the Terps recovered, winning 10 of their last 12 with both losses to the Blue Devils as they reached the Final Four.
"A lot of teams in our situation [losing five out of six] wouldn't have gotten back," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team finished the season 25-11. "It's hard to get past that, to break through that ceiling."
Still, there was another barrier to pass, and the Terps couldn't get by the Blue Devils, who will face the Arizona Wildcats in tonight's NCAA final. Several of the more candid fans yesterday blamed the loss on questionable officiating.
"It was a great game, and the officiating reflected the score," said Chris Yokum, 37, of Rockville, who came with his wife and son. "It's hard to win when it's seven against five."
That frustration displayed itself in the several bonfires some fueled by furniture started in College Park after the game. One of the fires burned a fiber-optic cable on Knox Road.
At a pep rally before the Terps left for Minneapolis on Wednesday, the players joked that the students should wait for the players to come home victorious before tearing the town apart.
"That was said as a joke," Mardesich said when he was informed about the fires. "I'm a little disappointed. People are frustrated, as are we, but I'm not sure that's the best way to deal with it."
Williams wouldn't touch on the team's disappointment too much, instead preferring the larger scope.
"We had to get to that level," he said. "People perceive schools that get to the Final Four [as legitimate programs]. This is a program built on a solid base. This is not a quick hit."
Williams personally had even more reason to frown. After speaking to reporters, Williams walked through the crowd to his Toyota 4Runner. He grabbed a campus parking ticket off the windshield, held it up for TV cameras and smiled as best he could before driving off.

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