Sometimes, after especially tense games, the Georgetown basketball coach, John Thompson, may be seen off by himself drinking from a large cardboard container of milk.

"Prevention," he says, tapping his stomach.

"I'm a Maalox man," said George Washington Coach Bob Tallent.

Whatever their postgame elixir, this has not been a gentle season for the nation's major-college coaches. Nobody beyond the Indiana State Birdmen and Alcorn State's Invisibles has lost fewer than two games -- and illness forced Indiana State's coach to relinquish the job to his assistant.

Snipers today are firing on Chapel Hill, N.C. Their target is Dean Smith, who turned the most promising Atlantic Coast Conference game of the season into a travesty Saturday night at Duke.

Smith is arguably the best in his profession; his team is ranked among the top five in the country and includes more former high-school hotshots than many colleges attract in a generation.

So when id Smith begin his infamous fourcorners against Duke? A few seconds after the game began. It was the nonshot heard 'round the semiamateur hoop world. The Tar Heels, caught in Smith's tar, were shut out the first half, 7-0.

Justice prevailed and Carolina lost by seven, 47-40.

"And people want us fired?" GW assistant Tom Schneider yelped when he heard the Carolina-Duke halftime numbers. "Go tell Bob Tallent the score. Maybe it'll help a little."

Like all good coaches who refuse to escape to a rational business after a year or so, Tallent has endured one of those seasons when little has gone right. GW has fallen victim to the two dreaded I's -- injuries and indecision. One could call it ulcer-generating, except Tallent, 32, already has one.

"Got it after my first season," he said, "after the first season and then recruiting. I was in the hospital about six days. Ever since then it's been under control, although it bothered me some the second season.

"We had three overtime games that year -- and after the Pitt game my wife came right down with a bottle of Maalox to save my life."

Tallent was talking after another all-too-typical Colonial collapse Saturday night. For the 17th time in 26 games, GW had been outscored in the second half. For the sixth time, GW had lost after leading at halftime, to an ordinary West Virginia team it needed to beat for the home-court advantage in this week's Eastern Eight playoffs.

"I think we can play better," Tallent said. "Maybe I'm wrong. I know we play hard, but sometimes we play stupidly." And for a team that frequently uses its fists on the court and accepts inspiration from an exceptionally crude crowd near the bench, GW gets terribly timid near the end of tight games.

It almost seems as though the 13-13 team undergoes a personality transplant at halftime. All its strengths -- speed and savvy, perimeter shooting and the inside play of center Mike Zagardo -- slowly are neutralized -- and then all the weaknesses become more and more evident.

GW has guards and forwards who can shoot splendidly, pass well and play tough defense, but Bob Lindsay is the only one who combines all those virtues. And he missed 12 of 13 games at one point this season with a knee injury. And he took only three shots the second half Saturday night after a five-for-six first half.

Some fans argue that Tom Tate plays too much and Brian Magid not enough -- and that everybody gets dizzy on the free-throw line late in games. The gifted Tom Glenn has been in a deep slump of late. Zagardo's shoulders are not large enough to cary an entire team an entire season.

The Colonials sold themselves heavily before the season, then watched in horror as one good player after another suffered an injury. Glenn's hand was broken the night before the fourth game of the season. A minute into that game against Villanova, ligaments in Lindsay's knee were torn.

Curtis Jeffries missed important time with a bruised thigh, Bucky Roman underwent knee surgery before the season began, freshman forward Dave Thornton contracted mononucleosis shortly after arriving on campus and Daryle Charles flunked out of school.

"I played at Kentucky during a year like this," Tallent said. "And Rupp fired me (leading to his transfer to GW in 1967). We were 13-13, after going 26-2 the year before. We went from the best to the worst in a year -- and I think he (Rupp) would have fired everybody if he could have.

"He always said after games: 'I told 'em what to do; they just didn't do it.' He never took any of the blame. Well, it works both ways. Sometimes the coach makes mistakes; sometimes it's the players.

"We haven't changed that much since we've been here. Those things worked a couple years ago (when GW was 20-7). Look at John Thompson. Four years ago they were going to hang him. I guarantee you he's not thatmuch smarter in four years.

There was a "Toss Tallent" sign in Smith Center before the Rutgers game that quickly was ripped down. If his ulcer is not fast breaking, Tallent nevertheless shows outward signs of the grim season. His shirts seem oversized; his belt is pulled to the final notch.

It is not even pleasant to look ahead, for rivals West Virginia and Penn State are on the rise with ambitious coaches. And GW will not compromise academic standards more strict than most teams it plays.

"Bob is a good coach," Athletic Director Bob Faris agreed after Saturday's loss. "If I weren't a grown man, I could cry over what's happened this season."

Tallent has come close to that in public a time or so. And Smith Center's silliness was no comfort. He was deep in thought about his own problems.