- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2008

Now it turns out that Maryland’s startling upset of top-ranked North Carolina nine days ago was just what it seemed at the time, an aberration. These inconsistent Terrapins aren’t really ready to achieve anything notable — not now and perhaps not ever.

Maybe coach Gary Williams should moonlight as a politician because he spun like a whirling dervish after Maryland’s discouraging 93-84 loss to Duke last night at Comcast Center.

“We’ve won six of eight games, we beat the No. 1 team in the country and we had the [No. 4] team down by [nine] at halftime,” Williams said. “We shot 54 percent tonight. … What do you want us to do?”

Uh, that’s easy, coach: win.

Of course, Gary might not have the material, no matter how much he accentuates the positive. After all, his latest Terps outfit is merely 12-8 and 2-3 in the ACC, so maybe those startling nonleague losses to American and Ohio were better indicators of this team’s quality than the somewhat inexplicable win in Chapel Hill.

For the first 20 minutes last night, though, many of the faithful could have been pardoned for dreaming.

Maryland led Duke 51-42 at the break, in large part thanks to a terrific first half by forward Bambale Osby (5-for-5 from the field, 12 points, nine rebounds). But something bad happened to the Terps at halftime. Maybe they realized they were playing far over the heads. Whatever the reason, a totally different team trotted out for the second half.

Three Maryland turnovers (two by Osby) led to six quick points in the first 61 seconds for Duke, a team always ready to capitalize on enemy errors. That reduced the Terps’ lead to three points, and the tone was set for the entire second half.

Duke didn’t catch up until the 13:27 mark and didn’t take the lead for another minute or so after that, but the Blue Devils’ surge shifted the momentum dramatically. The lead subsequently changed hands several times, but, as Williams put it, “We just didn’t get it done in the second half.”

No argument there.

“We didn’t come out with the same energy in the second half,” Williams said. “We tried to stir things up, but we gave them the confidence they [needed]. They’re a good team, and sometimes that’s all it takes.”

It added up to another empty evening against Duke, something that has happened much too often even though the Terps have managed some impressive upsets in recent years.

When the Blue Devils came out for pregame warmups, they were greeted with the customary hooting and howling from Maryland partisans. For reasons I don’t totally understand, the Blue Devils, coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Durham school have been reviled in other ACC outposts for years. You’d almost think a bunch of Democrats had invaded a Republican strategy session or vice versa.

“It costs $45,000 a year to go there, and they think they’re better than everybody else,” suggested Robert Novak, the renowned political columnist and a certified Terps groupie.

One cause of such fervent dislike, of course, is Duke’s annoying success under Coach K: 10 ACC championships, 10 Final Four appearances and three national titles in his 27 previous seasons. Back when I was much younger, people used to detest the Yankees for the same reason.

The mere mention of Duke is enough to send the blood pressure of Terps fans soaring. Some of the Maryland players are just as antagonistic. Before last night’s affair, freshman guard Chris Tucker said, “I cannot stand Duke. … If they gave me a scholarship and that was my only Division I scholarship, I’d go Division II. I don’t know what it is. I can’t stand Duke.”

Hey, kid, grow up already. It’s fine to play as hard as you can against Duke or anybody else, but it’s wrong to hate another school or anybody in a different uniform.

It’s a game, for heaven’s sakes. Let’s treat it as such and move on to more important matters, such as … what in the world is Dan Snyder thinking?

From this viewpoint, the Dookies deserve only respect and admiration. We should all be as successful.

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