As Lefty Driesell and Digger Phelps shook hands at midcourt yesterday at the conclusion of Maryland's 77-65 rout of Notre Dame, Phelps put an arm around Driesell and said softly, "Thanks for keeping it close."
He had good reason to be thankful. The Irish easily could have lost to the Terrapins by 30 yesterday before a sellout crowd of 14,500 in Cole Field House. They shot eight for 38 (21 percent) in the first half and trailed by 11. They got two points from their starting forwards and five from their starting guards. Driesell helped by clearing his bench during the last five minutes.
"We got our butts beat," Phelps said. "We had to bus to Toledo, fly to Pittsburgh and then fly to Washington last night. That's not to take anything away from Maryland, but we're not the kind of team that can miss our workout the night before the game."
Whether the workout would have helped is questionable. Even on a day when Adrian Branch scored only six points (shooting two for nine and failing to reach double figures for the first time in 31 games), Maryland had everything it needed to rout the Irish (9-5).
Len Bias, after scoring two points in the first half, ended with 18 and nine rebounds. Keith Gatlin scored 14 points, Speedy Jones and Jeff Baxter 10 each and Jeff Adkins nine. Maryland is 15-5 going into today's 12:30 p.m. game against Villanova (WRC-TV-4).
The key player yesterday was Gatlin, the Terrapins' sophomore point guard. He has struggled since the team returned from Hawaii almost a month ago, bothered by a sore toe and a shooting slump.
Yesterday, it was apparent early that Notre Dame was determined to deny Bias and Branch shots off the wings. The Irish spread their matchup zone out wide and invited Gatlin to shoot.
"I knew they wanted me to shoot and if I were them, I probably would, too," Gatlin said. "When my shot was there, I was going to take it. When the penetration was there, I took that."
During the first nine minutes, Gatlin took five shots and made them all. His last one, a 15-foot jumper, gave the Terrapins a 14-7 lead with 10:51 left and convinced Phelps to call a timeout.
Gatlin also played a crucial role defensively, shutting down freshman star David Rivers. Gatlin held him to one point in the first half and to five points on two-of-13 shooting for the game.
"We just told Keith to deny him the penetration," Driesell said. "If he penetrates, he's deadly. Today, he never really got it going."
The only Notre Dame starter who got anything going was center Ken Barlow, who had 16 points. The numbers for the other starters were extraordinarily awful. Besides Rivers's poor showing, Tim Kempton was one for 11, Jim Dolan was zero for one and Scott Hicks was zero for three.
Kempton, in particular, had a horrific day. He had four shots blocked by Derrick Lewis, missed layups and played so poorly that Maryland students gave him a standing ovation when he returned to the game during the second half.
"I heard them," Kempton said with a wry smile. "I just never took the ball hard enough to the rim against Lewis all day. There's not much to say about a day like this. We were lousy, and Maryland did a hell of a job early with their jump shot against our zone to get on top of us."
As has been their wont all season, the Terrapins tried to let the Irish back in the game. After leading, 29-13, with 2:30 left in the half, they let Notre Dame creep to 29-18 at halftime.
Notre Dame actually played well during the first eight minutes of the second half, running their offense, getting some penetration and, most notably, getting the ball to Barlow.
When Barlow went around Branch for a layup that made it 41-35 with 12:02 to go, it looked as if the game would become close.
But the Terrapins blew the Irish out as quickly as they had let them in. Adkins hit a drive from the right side, and Bias flashed through the lane to hit a short jumper that made it 45-35.
After a miss by Rivers, Jones hit from the base line and then, after Kempton let a pass go through his hands, Jones scored again from inside to make it 49-35. Phelps tried a timeout. It worked long enough to get one basket, on Joseph Price's jump shot, but Maryland went on an 8-1 run that clinched the victory.
By the time Phelps called time again, it was 60-40 with 5:47 left, and both coaches put in the reserves.
This series never has had a game like this one. The previous 11 games (each team now has won six) were usually decided on the last play, a jump shot here, a turnover there. Last year, Maryland went to Notre Dame as the nation's fifth-ranked team and lost. Yesterday, though, none of the suspense or intensity usually associated with these games was evident.
"I remember watching Notre Dame-Maryland on TV when I was a kid, and it was never like this," Gatlin said. "The first half, they just didn't seem that aggressive. They usually pound the inside on you with their big people, but they didn't do it today."
Big people, little people, Notre Dame just didn't have the right people yesterday. Because Rivers has been so sensational all year, the Irish have come to depend on him. When you are dependent on a 6-foot freshman and he has a horrible day, this is what happens.
"I played against David in summer camp and I knew how good he was," Gatlin said. "He's a very good point guard. But I think I'm pretty good, too."