The shock remains, more than 36 hours later. it is one of those times when the jaw goes slack and the mind keeps asking, can it be? Really? Yes.

Lefty Driesell is going soft on us.

"Mellowin" on out" is how his former player and assistant coach, Howard White, put it.

For weeks, there had been rumors that chairs now were safe from Driesell after losses, that phone lines no longer melted and players need not wear carmuffs within a half-mile of pratice.

Still Maryland had been playing the warmup phase of its schedule. Oh, Georgetown and Vegas are fine teams, but the ACC, them's fightin' letters, suh.

The mere mention of Norm Sloan's name is said to cause Driesell's blood to double dribble. And State being ranked No. 4 in the country before tipoff Wednesday in Cole Field House Surely would have him in fine fettle once again.

Well, veteran Lefthander watchers could sense something amiss during the coach's pregame strut to the bench. Once, the pep band played "Hail to the Chief" during those entrances-and he always flashed the student body a V sign, one for an ordinary game and up to three for a war against Sloan or Dean Smith.

Considering the circumstances, Wednesday figured to be a three-V night. Incredibly, Driesell offered only one-and a weak one at that. Then he actually winked at someone before he took his seat.

Driesell is as much a copycat as any coach, so perhaps he had recalled how The Wizard always winked at Nell just before UCLA games and . . . But this was most unLeftylike.

The game began, and you would have thought Driesell was at a Bach concert or a Jim Kehoe sermon on Title 9 instead of watching his dizzy Turtles chew up State for a late-night snack.

Maryland went up 2-0, 4-0, 6-0, 8-0 and Driesell remained on his chair, his left leg resting atop his right knee. "This ain't Biscayne, Lefthander," you wanted to yell, "This is a real game, State, foot-stompin' time."

Driesell built his reputation throwing sport coats and leaving his left shoe-print on floors. Like the George Allen thumb lick and Tom Heinsohn's scowl, Driesell's physical quirks are memorable.

Sloan once said he'd heard that Driesell reached across a kitchen table, grabbed a propect by the shirt and yelled: "You're coming to Davidson."

But Mount Driesell no longer erupts in public.

There were occasional gurgles Wednesday, at Ernest Graham. But Job would consider unsanitary thoughts if his livelihood depended on Graham's crackers from 25 feet.

Graham is what comedian Steve Martin would be if he could play hoops. A wild and crazy guy, who plays defense with his mouth a lot but has what is known at Maryland as Magis's Touch with a jumper and no conscience.

When Graham has the ball, to rearrange Bucky Waters' classic line, Maryland no longer has an equal-opportunity offense. When Graham is on a tear, as he was against State, the best strategy is to pass him the ball and get out of his way.

In retrospect, Graham's major accomplishment might not have been his 11-for-14 show from the field the second half or his 44 total points, or even the three times he actually set up teammates for baskets. Graham's most significant act was to stir some emotion in his coach.

Until that happened, rather late in the first half, some of us were ready ot demand that the game be halted and the Leafthander given medical attention. Had sly Norman spiked his pregame milk and cookies?

Finally, after Graham took a bad shot and missed, Driesell left his chair and spoke harsbly to his young gunner. Sulking, Graham took an even worse shot, missed again, and Driesell was up and scurrying down the bench for a sub.

What a relief! He was alive after all. But for how long? A State player soon slipped inside Larry Gibson, grabbed a teammate's missed free throw and put it back up for two points.

In semiamateur basketball, this is a sin worth a minimum of 50 lashes with a sharp tongue. Lefty sat in silence, with his legs crossed and his hands clasped over one knee. Perhaps he missed the play.

But he had not missed the obscene chant that earlier began to build behind him after a debatable call. In years past, Driesell would have been on his feet leading those chants, filthy or filtered.

On Wednesday, Dec. 20, at about 9:40 p.m.-a moment that will live in the minds of his fans for years-Lefty Driesell quieted a Maryland crowd. An era has passed. Or so it seemed.

Driesell was touchy about discussing his new manner, saying: "I just don't do it any more." A few moments before, he had told reporters to gather closely around him "because i don't want to have to repeat myself. I'm getting old."

He will be 47 christmas, with no more-or less-hair than when he arrived from Davidson 10 years ago, although his sideburns are more gray than black. He has known enormous success and enormous sadness at Maryland, but not the one goal he covets-a national championship.

A man who has known him for some time suggests Driesell may well be winding donw, that if that NCAA title does not come within, say, five years, he will leave coaching. He also suggests another possibility, that in his 19 years Driesell has tried every strategic more except one: Mellow.