Ernest N. Cory Jr. had just returned from his usual morning of fishing yesterday when he learned that he and four other associates of former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel once again faced jail terms.

"Wait a minute," he said from his home near Dalesville, Md., of the even-split decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. "I thought ties go over. Isn't that the way the court plays?" Then, sighing, Cory said, "I suppose the system has to run its full course."

Cory's reaction was typical of the responses yesterday of the five codefendants in Mandel's corruption trial to the reinstatement of their 1977 convictions. Gallows humor, disbelief and a measure of exhausted stoicism prevailed among the defendants and their lawyers as they took calls from reporters and prepared for the next round of court battles.

"we're going into extra innings to break this tie," said William G Hundley, the lawyer for W. Dale Hess. "How could we have lost on a tie? Even in Las Vegas, you don't lose on a tie."

Four businessmen and close friends of Mandel -- William A. Rodgers, Harry W. Rodgers, Hess and Irvin Kovens -- and Cory, the group's lawyer, could face jail terms ranging from 18 months to four years if yesterday's court ruling is upheld.

These men were charged with corrupting Mandel by giving him thousands of dollars in gifts and business interests in exchange for legislation favoring the Marlboro race track, which prosecutors said they secretly owned.

The defendants, who with the exception of Cory continued to be sucessful and influential businessmen, had hoped these charges were dead."I haven't been paying that much attention to (the case)," said William Rodgers, who threw a champagne victory party after his conviction was originally reversed last January by a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit.

"i haven't heard anything about this," Rodgers said of the decison. "normally, I read a good bit, but I haven't kept up with this, I've been busy. I've had a lot of sickness in my family, I've had about five deaths recently, and I just haven't had a chance to think about much else."

Other defendants were not willing to discuss the case. "Dale took a little trip, nd doesn't want to be reached," said Hundley of his client, Hess.

Harry W. Rodgers iii, said his son, Harry W. Rodgers IV, "its on the Eastern Shore, and I think he would prefer it if no one knew how to call him."

Irvin Kovens, the Baltimore political boss described by prosecutors as the major stockholder in the Marlboro race track, was also said to be unavailable yesterday. "Can't you imagine the reaction?" said his wife Jackie. "There's nothing to be said."

"we're all disappointed," said Thomas Green, Harry Rodgers' lawyer. "the fundamental problem is that after five years of bearing the burden of this case, we find ourselves in the position of losing, three-to-three.

"that's a hell of a note on which to face a four-year jail sentence."