North Carolina gave Maryland its bimonthly lesson in defense and team play tonight. The Tar Heels played so well and Maryland so poorly that the winners' only serious harassment came from the stands.
The most entertaining moments of the first ACC semifinal came from a small nest of Duke students, a clever collection of minds who has been conspiring nearly a week for ways to embarrass Carolina.
When the Tar Heels began attacking Maryland with their special blend of passing and Al King showed up with a foot injury and Ernest Graham failed to show up at all -- or so it seemed -- even neutral witnesses began squirming.
Carolina wanted not only to win, but also to leave a calling card for the championship game Saturday night, a reminder that it could, too, play exceptionally well after deflating itself last week against Duke.
Maryland scored the first point -- and a casual glance at the final stat sheet made the score, 102-79, appear as though something resembling a game had taken place. Maryland took nine more shots, made three more free throws and threw the ball away three fewer times.
The numbers lied -- and Coach Dean Smith mercifully sent in his reserves with six minutes left. Maryland's Lefty Driesell made his regulars endure every bitter moment, refusing to allow the senior subs the satisfaction of a few moments of tournament experience.
"All I can say is that they beat the devil out of us." Driesell said. "Tonight they could have beaten the Baltimore Bullets. Oh, yeah, the Washington Bullets. I'm so confused I don't know what's going on."
That was after Driesell had 15 minutes or so to compose himself.
Every Carolina strength played to a Maryland weakness. Just at the moment the Terrapins figured a way to beat one Carolina defense the Tar Heels would switch to something else. Carolina hit 60 percent of its shots -- and in contrast to Maryland nearly every one was unmolested and from inside 15 feet.
"I don't care who Carolina plays in the final," Greg Manning said. "They win."
So when Carolina began increasing its lead from 6-1 to 8-3 to 12-5 before the first television timeout, one neck started to look about Hreensboro Coliseum. And all of a sudden up popped a sign that said:
"Assounting is more exciting than UNC."
Duke had struck again.
Carolina had given Blue Devil fans inspiration by stalling in their final regular-season collision Saturday night in Durham, filing to shoot for what seemed liked hours at a time and falling behind by a mind-jolting 7-0 by halftime.
Hardly a moment passed tonight without the Dukies chanting "Zero, Zero, Zero" at anything in short pants wearing baby blue.
With about four minutes left in the first half -- and Carolina ahead by 14 -- the Duke fans began to chant what must have been on nearly every other mind: "Go clock, go."
But a combination of fouls and turnovers gave Smith an excuse to call for his four-corners stall with about two minutes left. Unwittingly, he was playing into Dukes hands, although he scarcely could have cared.
Clearly, the Dukies had anticipated the four corners, probably had prayed Smith would use it in fact. And when he did, dozens of them stood, on cue, held up newspapers and started to read.
"BOR-ing, Bor/-ing. BOR-ing.
"We want basketball, we want basketball, we want basketball."
Then came the one sequence of seconds that best illustrated what made the difference between Carolina and Maryland so great. There were 27 seconds left and Maryland had only five team fouls, or two under what would put Carolina on the line for the most harmless touch away from the ball.
Maryland had a foul to give -- and it could have waited until a few seconds remained and smacked a Tar Heel before he could shoot. Carolina would have the ball again, but it would have to work extremely hard for a shot.
Instead, the Terrapins allowed Carolina to pass them dizzy, to work the ball into position for Al Wood to shoot from six feet with no one near him. Swish.
When Carolina hit 100 points, its fans rose as one, pointed toward the Duke fans in the next section and yelled: "Zero, Zero, Zero."
And in their semifinal the Dukies all of a sudden fell in love with the four corners, because their heroes started using it with 7:10 left in the game and a three-point lead.
North Carolina State forced Duke into a pressure parade to the free-throw line, the tension was so over-whelming that once-rowdy Devil fans were reduced to whisper-like chants -- and prayers.
When Mike Gminski hit a jumper with one second left, the rematch Duke and Carolina and much of the country anticipated was assured. Both teams are assured NCAA bids, but there are more important matters at stake.