- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

The University of Maryland's Comcast Center was unofficially inaugurated yesterday with 17,950 frantic eyewitnesses yowling in accompaniment.
True, the Terrapins already had played a couple of exhibitions and eight games at their glittering $125million facility, but nothing really mattered until Duke came to town.
The Blue Devils stormed in and slunk out, at least figuratively, after Maryland hung an 87-72 haymaker on the nation's top-ranked and only undefeated team. The unexpected result was even more startling considering that the Terps had stunk up the joint so badly in a nine-point road loss at Wake Forest just 60 or so hours earlier that fumigators in the Winston-Salem area probably had to work overtime.
Asked if he could recall an equal turnaround in his 14 seasons as ringmaster of hoop-la in College Park, Gary Williams said, "I don't know."
Charles G. Driesell, his predecessor once removed, might have answered the same question by drawling, "Wal, you know, I don't know, you know." And come to think of it, Williams did sort of echo a classic quote by the estimable Lefty in years gone by. When a media wretch asked something about his losing record over the years against Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Gary replied, "I can coach." Next thing you know, he'll be kicking chairs on the sideline and giving "V for victory" signs.
But we shouldn't digress, because Maryland's thumping of the proud Blue Devils deserves unmitigated applause. It came from a young team that bears little resemblance to last season's national champions but one that seems to have the same knack for absorbing adversity without losing its focus.
A lot of folks had wondered whether big games at Comcast would have the same electric atmosphere as those at steamy Cole Field House, where partisan crowds nearly tore off the roof and frequently psyched out visiting teams. How about that, coach?
"The crowd was as good as any we've played in front of since I've been at Maryland," Williams attested. "They were great."
Issue settled.
The din that had persisted for an hour or more grew to a roar 10 minutes before tipoff when 1980s star Adrian Branch and Juan Dixon, the super guard from last year's miracle workers, were introduced. Dixon waved his arms by way of exhorting the crowd to even higher decibels of sound, but that might have been impossible.
As soon as the colors were presented and the national anthem was played, the stomping started. This one had big game written all over it. At courtside sat newly inaugurated Gov.Robert Ehrlich and Lt.Gov. Michael Steele. Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens' All-Pro linebacker, hunkered down in his seat. After the players were introduced, Williams and Coach K shook hands and smiled at each other almost like they meant it. Then somebody in a striped shirt tossed a ball in the air, and things started to go perfectly for Duke.
Almost quicker than Maryland fans could say, "Oh, no," the deep and talented Blue Devils bolted to a 13-3 lead after Dahntay Jones nailed a 3-pointer with 17:15 left. At that early juncture, the Terps already had six turnovers, and on the bench Williams was wondering whether his troops would kill their chances with the same kind of smelly start that helped cost them the Wake Forest game.
"Yeah, I thought, 'Here we go again,'" Gary confessed after the game. "But this team is maybe more mature because of what happened at Wake Forest."
Whatever. At any rate, freshman Nik Caner-Medley delivered a 3-point jumper from the right side, Drew Nicholas hit from the baseline, Ryan Randle contributed a stuff, a putback and two free throws and Maryland's deficit disappeared like Kathleen Kennedy Townsend the day after the election.
Back and forth they went until Duke staged a mini-spurt near the end of the half to lead 43-37 at intermission. But when the Terps took off on a 14-3 run early in the second half, it was literally all over but the shouting.
Naturally, Williams didn't tell his players that. What he might have mentioned was how the Terps blew a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of regulation and lost to Duke in overtime two years ago. But nothing like that was going to happen this time.
If the Terps felt any elation, they hid it well in their locker room. Good thing, because this is, after all, the ACC meaning that stiff challenges await around every corner. Maryland must play North Carolina and Clemson on the road next week. One month from today, they invade Duke, where the Cameron Crazies will be even louder and more insulting because of what transpired yesterday. And farther down the road loom the customary conference and NCAA tournament brawls.
In other words, the Terps need more than yesterday's triumph to prove they are worthy successors to last season's champs. But if you're looking for a harbinger, this was with apologies to Jackie Gleason a dan-dan-dandy.

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