Settle down, Folks. Maryland ain't that good. Nobody is that good. Bring back Cousy, Sharman and Russell, they ain't that good. The University of Maryland's basketball team beat North Carolina State, 124-110, last night. Giddy revelers dreamed of championships for the taking. But a realist (there's one in every crowd) remembers the face Lefty Driesell made.
It's hard to forget any face the Maryland coach makes. They are portraits of agony, his countenance that of a man sentenced to bite into a thousand lemons. The way Lefty dies, you'd think he was a wronged woman in a soap opera.Anyway, pain owned Lefty when Ernest Graham did this foolish thing.
Yes, yes, Ernest Graham was gold from his front tooth to his fingernails last night. This was the game of his fantasies. No matter how he chose to put up a shot, the Maryland sophomore knew one thing: it would go in. He made 18 field goals in 26 tries. He had 44 points. Records 25 years old fell to him.
But . . .
Anyone looking down the long, twisting road this college basketball season must stave off the temptation to say last night's victory means a thing.Nobody, folks, is that good. Not Jerry West, not Oscar Robertson. Certainly not Ernest Graham, who on this night of nights still managed to make Lefty Driesell angry.
The little incident is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with this Maryland team. Graham had 14 points late in the first half. In a departure from normality, Maryland then chose to run a paterned play. Whe nothing good developed, Graham close to shoot up a turnaround, fallaway, 25-foot jumper. Those kind go in once every 76 years.
Lefty, a kindly soul, called his prodigy over for a lecture. Graham walked away from the coach in a huff and, a minute later, put up another prayer from outer space.
Lefty, a berserk person, threw his arms wide open at the sight. He pushed his arms against his assistant coaches. He looked like a reluctant parachutist being forced through an open door into 10,000 feet of air. He leaped up and found a substitute-anyone would have done-for Graham, who on his removal sulked at the far end of the bench.
And chanches are the coach, who is a realist (maybe there are two in every crowd), put a few words of homespun philosophy on the precocious swing man during the halftime intermission.
That is a surmisal based on Graham's flawless performance, a work of beauty in fact, in the last half. One imagines Gene Shue, the old field-goal record holder, throwing in flat-top set shots. Graham who is 6-foot-7 and tiger-smooth, would have left Shue gasping last night.
In the frist five minutes of the second half, Graham scored 15 points from everywhere, driving at the hoop, from 20 feet, twisting through the lane. By then Maryland owned a 66-51 lead over the nation's fourth-ranked team, and victory seemed certain.
Victory was not guaranteed so much by the ineffable grace of Graham's performance as it was by North Carolina State's willingness to engage in the playground basketball so favored by Driesell's crew. If the NCAA puts in a rule saying no one can run a set play, Maryland is in. One on one, this is a wonderful team.
The way last night's game went, you'd have though Norm Sloan, the State coach, walked up to Lefty beforehand and said, "Hey, Left-hander, how do you want us to play tonight?"
"Ah'd surely appreciate it, Norm, if y'all would just kinda throw it up there and run back and forth with us," Driesell would have said.
As this was the game of Graham's dreams, so was it Maryland's. Too bad they didn't schedule the national championship for Cole last night. It was a typical Atlantic Coast Conference atmostphere - inside the first five minutes, there was a near-fight, a technical foul, a paper cup thrown onto the floor, one finger-pointing attempt at intimidation-and Maryland handled the pressures better than State.
Maryland twice threatened to fritter away big leads. An 18-point lead dwindled to seven in 2 1/2 minutes midway through the second half. A team without discipline - a team of sulkers as suggest by Graham's pouting early on - might have disintegrated then.
But down the stretch, Maryland played solidly. Driesell ordered a slowdown with 8 1/2 minutes to play. Those realists who know how difficult it is to rein in a thoroughbred on the loose suddenly worried that Driesell was doing exactly what Sloan hoped for.
Wrong, wrong. In those 8 1/2 minutes, Maryland scored 41 points. That's correct. Mathematicians know that figures out to 192.7 points in a 40-minute game. Some slow down.
The slowdown was remarkable for more than the orgy of scoring. A realist saw portents of happiness for a Maryland team wracked with jealously last season. On his playmates' every free throw, Albert King stood at midcourt with his fingers crossed for good luck. When Graham, out with cramps in both calves, returned to the game, King interrupted his free-throwing to lead the applause.
And at the end, when Graham ignored an open teammate on a fast break so he could score one last bucket, everyone came to him in celebration. Part of the congratulations belong to Driesell, who sat the hero down when he deserved it.
Stay tuned. March will get here too soon.