- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

If you just check the final score 86-83 North Carolina last night's ACC scrap at Cole Field House looks like another tough loss for Maryland. Victory was so close yet so far away, and all that.

In a word or two, forget it. The Terps deserved the loss and, in fact, deserved to lose by a lot more. Once again in a key game against another ACC power, Maryland came up very small.

Some people have been calling this one of Gary Williams' best teams, maybe one of the nation's best. Now, though, it's perfectly proper to wonder if it will even come close to fulfilling all that potential.

In their first meeting this season with one of the ACC's perennial twin powers, North Carolina and Duke, the Terps showed nothing. They folded badly for most of the second half after beginning it with a 36-32 lead.

How badly? Well, North Carolina took the lead with a 9-0 run at the start, then expanded it to 24-6 and 38-16. The Tar Heels weren't subtle about it either, hitting their first four 3-point shots over the first 4:24 of the second half to equal their first-half output from downtown College Park. And what was Maryland's offensive response? The Terps went without a field goal for more than five minutes as North Carolina zipped to a 70-52 lead.

In his postgame wake, Williams said the Tar Heels "came out with more emotion" for the second half and noted that "we didn't have the energy the first eight minutes." No argument there. What he must be asking himself is, why?

It would be nice to credit the Terps with a dramatic comeback over the last eight minutes or so, but North Carolina helped out with turnovers and other errors that led to easy Maryland baskets. To be honest, neither team looked like a world-beater, or even an ACC-beater. When Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sees the tape of this one, he might be inclined to lick his chops a little.

Maryland's season has a long way to go, but there's little reason at this point to suspect that the Terps will worry the toughest teams around. They've had a lot of practice over the years at being good but not good enough, and the discouragement continues.

Through the decades, North Carolina and Duke have mostly treated the Terps as so much lint on their respectively blue uniforms. If not for the dratted Tar Heels and Blue Devils, Maryland might be recognized universally as perennial kingpin of the ACC.

Going into last night's debate, Maryland's all-time records against the two chief Tobacco Row bullies was enough to make even rock-rumped political commentor Robert Novak an incurable Terps' fan beat his breast: 49-104 vs. the Heels, 52-92 vs. the Devils. Whose idea was it to form this league anyway?

For Maryland supporters, frustration peaked against North Carolina during the 17 seasons (1970-86) that Charles Grice Driesell was honcho of hoops in College Park. Lefty might have preferred selling encyclopedias for a living again rather than losing to Dean Smith, but lose he did 19 times in 28 meetings. It's a wonder the ol' Lefthander didn't pull out what remained of his hair.

Never have two antagonists been more different. Lefty was unsophisticated, hot-tempered and a great recruiter. Deano was urbane, calm and a great coach. What's more, he knew how to tweak Driesell where it hurt.

Until the shot clock appeared, Smith's teams tortured the Terps with their infamous four-corners offense. This involved the Tar Heels coolly passing the ball around the perimeter as time went down and Driesell's blood pressure went up. The only way to break the four corners, it seemed, was to foul. Then, of course, North Carolina would hit something like 10 free throws in a row.

Nowadays Smith is retired and Driesell is turning out a winner at Georgia State, of all places, at the untender age of 69. But the parallel lives on when Maryland plays Duke each season. Williams' thing is intensity, whether he's crouching tensely on the sideline (oh, those aching knees) or bellowing at offending officials. Krzyzewski, however, sports the demeanor of a mortician as his teams prepare opponents for burial. I've seen ushers who appeared more excited.

In the final analysis, though, players and not coaches decide ACC basketball games. Incredibly, Maryland has never been to the Final Four, coming closest in 1975 when Driesell lost to Louisville in the Midwest Region final. Right now nothing appears likely to change.

Williams said he told his team afterward, "One game isn't going to determine our success or lack of success in the ACC." He's right, but this was a pretty lousy harbinger.

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