With star forward Al King sent to the bench with a slightly sprained knee, the Maryland Terrapins rallied for their best effort of the year but still lost to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, 94-88, tonight.
The defeat overshadowed a brilliant display by freshman forward Buck Williams, who scored 17 points and pulled down 22 rebounds to keep the Terps in the game as Vegas made its record 3-0.
With King taking a seat after four minutes, Ernest Graham's quickness and sharp-shotting became doubly important. He led the Terps in scoring with 20 points on 10 field goals despite being in serious foul trouble throughout almost the entire game.
King's injury appeared to be minor and he asked to be put back into the game, but Coach Lefty Driesell declined. King will be examined Tuesday by team physician Stanford Lavine.
Maryland, now 2-2, led early despite 17 first-half turnovers. The Terps' last lead, 27-25, with 8:46 left in the first half, came on Graham's fast break layup off a pass from Dutch Morley, who had nine assists.
But Graham picked up his third foul and went to the bench with Vegas ahead, 33-31, and in the remaining 6:48 the Rebels sped to a 54-49 halftime advantage.
In the second half, Maryland could not get closer than three points, as Vegas took control behind the shooting of guards Flintie Ray Williams and Tony Smith.
Williams, a transfer from Pepperdine, was as dazzling as the city's main street, making 10 of 14 shots and five of eight free throws for 25 points. Smith was almost his equal, banging in nine of his 14 shots, mostly long jumpers.
Maryland hurt itself at the free-throw line, missing 12 of 24, and the Terps had predictable problems with Vegas' full-court, pressing defense, committing 30 turnovers that led to 32 Vegas points. Maryland scored only eight points off the Rebels' 13 turnovers.
"We lost our poise a couple times, but it was a good experience for them," said Driesell. "We missed a lot of free throws and got into foul trouble. But we're going to be all right.
"We played hard, with intensity, but we made some freshman mistakes. A lot of those long jumpers Vegas made, I would give them again."
The 2-2 beginning is the worst for a Terrapin team under Driesell since his first season in 1969-70, when the Terps won their first two and lost their next four. Maryland's other defeat this season was to Georgetown.
The Terps had a commanding edge in rebounds tonight, hauling down 63 to Vegas' 43. That was just enough damper on the Rebels' break to keep the game close.
Besides Williams' 22 rebounds, center Larry Gibson had 12 and managed to score 11 points playing most of the time against 7-foot Brett Vromen, who was held to six points.
Graham picked up his fourth foul a minute into the second half, but Driesell had little choice but to leave him in. The animated sophomore from Baltimore went on one-man scoring tear, hitting three straight baskets, including a fast-break flying dunk to bring Maryland within 66-61. An 18-footer by Greg Manning cut the margin to 66-63 with 14:24 left.
The Terps then lost Graham for a few precious moments while he sat on the bench, calming down after a technical foul. Graham was assessed the foul for saying something after a referee ruled he had stepped out of bounds with an errant Manning pass.
In the short time Graham was a spectator, Maryland lost the ball four times and Vegas opened an 80-71 lead. The Rebels went into a controlled offense in the closing 10 minutes and succeeded in setting up some easy scores and keeping the ball away from the tiring Terrapins.