On the eve of the Maryland Invitational Tournament all was not well at Cole Field House yesterday. Maryland's erratic Terrapins had worn out coach Lefy Driesell's Christmas cheer.
"You boys are going to get beat by Western Kentucky on Wednesday night," growled Driesell, his rasp plunging a ragged two-hour Maryland practice into stony silence.
"You look like a gal-dern bunch of rag dolls. You're not playing a bunch of patsies tomorrow. Al this talkin' and laughin' and messin' around. You better wake up."
Even if Maryland plays as absent mindedly as it practiced yesterday, it figures to trounce Western Kenticky in the 7 p.m. game.
The Hilltoppers' best scorer and rebounder, 6-foot-7 James Johnson (22.4 and 10.6) has sprained ankle and may not play. The 3-4 visitors aren't too good without him.
But No. 15-ranked Maryland need only look to Wednesday's second game at 9 p.m. to see the reason it better shape up in a hurry.
The St. John's Redman (7-2) with 6-7 George Johnson and 6-8 forsh center Wayne (Sugar Bear) McCoy are favored over a spunky Georgia Tech team led by 6-5 San Drummer, a power forward whose 21.4 average has paced the Ramblin' Wrecks to a 6-2 record.
The Terps could hardly have looked more disoriented if yesterday had been first day of practice. Driesell seldom stopped correcting his young players.
No one made the coach happy. Jo Jo Hunter resembled a sleewalker. Greg Manning missed assignments. Albert King could not buy a free throw. Bill Bryant was shooting from downtown and Larry Gibson was into wild drives.
Driesell started the workout chipper, a man who celebrated his 46th birthday on Christmas Day. But soon he was passing out expletives that Santa never heard.
Maryland continues to be enigmatic a week before the ACC season starts.
Driesell benched three starters after a 101-90 loss to George Washington two weeks ago. And a fourth starter, Bryant was moved from point guard to shooting guard. Only Albert King, the superfreshman, has stayed at the same position, small forward.
King has the lowest shooting percentage (.442) and free throw shooting mark (.612) on the team.
It was ninth-man Earnest Graham, a spirited 6-7 freshman from Baltimore, who brought Driesell's annoyance to a focus yesterday. The hustling Graham, plus four subs, made the team's first seven players look silly in a full-court scrimmage.
"You can't play," Graham kept yelling at the men he guarded, and the scrubs took inspiration from his example.
Graham scored on 6-1 Mike Davis, the brash freshman and crowded, "Charge that. Charge that to my credit card."
The first team could have used some of that enthusiasm.
"We've had some days off, and we practiced twice yesterday," said Driesell afterward. "Maybe that's why we looked so bad. I sure hope so."
Western Kentucky coach Jim Richards wished he ahd such problems.
"people much be spoiled around Washington to say Maryland is in a little sag. They look awesome, absolutely awesome to me," said Richards, who has no starter taller than 6-7.
"Against a team as good as Maryland it's critical for us to have james Johnson. I though the score would be like 130-124 the way we run, though maybe we couldn't get that close.
"But now apparently we don't have Johnson. Look at him mopin' up and down the court. He makes words of difference to us. Maryland'll probably get its 130 points, but we may only get 30."
Hilltopper players added to the vintage poor-mounthing. Aaron Bryant (14.3), a 6-7 forward and Western's other semibig man, asked shyly, "Which one is Albert King?"
"Maryland, which has won its invitational five of six years, has its customary spectacular early season statistics, including a 95.8 scoring mark and six players averaging in double figures.
The Terps have outshot eight opponents from the floor. .526 to .426.
In three games against fairly good teams - GW, Georgetown and Penn State - the Terps have lost once and been scared twice.
St. John's, despite a shattering 102-72 loss to Kentucky and a previous 72-61 defeat by Rutgers, figures to give the MIT a rousing championship game 9 p.m. on Thursday.