- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

Maryland opened its $125 million Comcast Center officially last night meaning with more-or-less genuine combat and discovered that something vital was missing.
That would be an ACC opponent, preferably Duke, which could thrill the local multitude by doing a swan dive at the feet of the triumphant Terrapins.
Not to take anything away from Miami of Ohio, last night's ersatz foe, but the RedHawks are not exactly a hoops power. Charlie Coles is the nation's only coach who also teaches a basketball theory course, and there was evidence that too many of his student athletes have been cutting classes. Final score: Maryland 64, Miami 49.
Afterward, Maryland coach Gary Williams muttered something about Miami playing really well, but maybe he meant the Florida version. The game was close for most of the first half only because the Terps allowed Miami's shoddy play to rub off. What kind of game was it? Well, Maryland shot 32 percent from the floor before the break and went to its luxurious locker room ahead by 11 points anyway.
But, of course, the game was not really what mattered. A sellout throng of 17,950 watched Maryland unfurl its first NCAA basketball championship banner from the rafters and once again thank Williams and his veteran players for last spring's memorable deeds.
Standing by his courtside seat before tip-off, political columnist and heartfelt Terps fan Robert Novak gazed around Comcast reflectively. "It's kind of sterile," he said. "We'll have to see what kind of character it has."
Meaning when Dookies, Tar Heels and Wolfpack, et al, come to call.
Will glittering Comcast and its fervent fans provide the same sort of homecourt advantage for the Terps as antediluvian Cole Field House did for nearly five decades?
I wouldn't bet against it, but as pundit Novak put it, we'll have to wait and see. Preliminary returns may be available Dec.29, when Georgia Tech drops by for the first ACC skirmish on the premises.
When the Terps trotted onto the floor at 4:45, the noise meter predictably reached for the heavens. A few moments later, Williams walked out thrusting his fist into the air just as though the game meant something.
They presented the colors, played the national anthem and showed a short history of Comcast was that an oxymoron? on the video board. Fortunately, none of the dignitaries present gave a speech, including lame-duck Gov. Parris Glendening, whose introduction induced so many boos you would have thought Mike Krzyzewski had just appeared. Apparently, this was a Robert Ehrlich crowd, although the governor-elect was otherwise occupied.
While all this was transpiring, it seemed easy to read Williams mind: Let's cut the claptrap and get on with it. The perfectionist coach conceded afterward that all the hoopla distracted him, and possibly his players.
"I gave them my usual speech after warm-ups, and then I remembered they hadn't been introduced," he said. "So I had to give it again."
Soon after referee Reginald Cofer tossed up the first ball, Gary might have wished for a second dose of ceremonies. Nearly 90 seconds elapsed before the Terps remembered that the object of the game is to deposit the leather sphere into the iron ring. Ryan Randle got the idea first, dropping a layup that guaranteed him lasting trivia immortality as the first man to score an official basket at Comcast.
Sadly, the message did not reach his teammates, although Randle gave another demonstration with a second layup two minutes later. Those baskets represented Maryland's total offensive output from the floor for the first seven minutes.
I don't know what Williams said to his team at halftime, but I doubt that many compliments were involved. The Terps then pretty much coasted through the second half, never letting the RedHawks back into serious contention but never really beating up on them either.
"It's pretty hard to get excited about the way we played," said Williams, who is considerably more candid than most in his profession. "It looked like we thought we could do whatever we wanted when it came time to score, but it doesn't work that way."
Not even, apparently, against the likes of Miami, which should stick to the Mid-American Conference and quit playing with the big boys.
From Maryland's standpoint, it was a typical opening game for a team without four of its shining lights from last season. Probably there will be more of the same, starting with Comcast dates this week against The Citadel and Duquesne, while Williams whips and cajoles his rearranged cast to readiness for the mammoth struggles of January, February and March.
Maryland basketball games in November and December always have been a mere prelude. Let's check back in five or six weeks when icicles are forming and Christmas trees are curbside awaiting pickup. I suspect the Terps will be ready by then and Comcast will be on the way to becoming a house of horrors for enemies approaching from the south.


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