The University of Maryland basketball team beat Rhode Island, 67-65, at Cole Field House last night, causing the public-address announcer to say, "There will be a game here Monday night."

That would be different.

This was no game.

This was ridiculous.

At Christmas, Santa delivers toys that resist all adult effort to put them together and make them work right.

That's what this supposed game was.

You put Tab A into Slot B and then you find out all the parts aren't there and there's no battey and pretty soon you're saying naughty things about Santa.

About this advertised game, there is only this to say, "X&% $ $#!"

Someone should call the Supreme Court, which, if memory serves, long ago outlawed cruel and unusual punishment. As basketball games go, Maryland-Rhode Isand was bamboo silvers driven with a sledgehammer under the fingernails of the poor 6,223 witnesses.

Maryland's Coach Lefty Driesell has declared this a nice season for his Terrapins. They wound up the regular season with an 18-10 won-lost record and were 7-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Breaking even in the ACC is good enough for Lefty, he says.

It was good enough, the Maryland zealots point out, to gain the Terps a spot in the Notheing Invitation Tournament, sometimes called the National Invitation Tournament. Once the NCAA takes the 40 best teams for the national-championship tournament, the NIT does its greedy handiwork in arranging a field and schedule that will produce the most money.

So it put Maryland, with its 14,000 Cole seats, in against pathetic Rhode Island. The Rams would play without their regular center. This would be a piece of cake for Maryland, thereby assuring at least two games in Cole.

Maryland was soooooo bad last night.

How bad were the Terps? Well, the loquacious p.a. man said, with a minute left in regulation, that, "There will be presentations to both teams immediately after the game."

And right away you hoped they gave both teams bus tickets home.

Listen. In the last 18 minutes and 40 seconds of play, Rhode Island made one field goal on its own. Maryland helped out with a goaltending call another tiem. In all three overtimes, Rhode Island played with only two regulars. For the eternal night, Rhode Island shot 35 percent.

One field goal in 18 minutes!Two regulars! Thirty-eight percent!

And Maryland was life and death, on its own court, to beat these staggering imposters of a major-college basketball team.

Certainly, Maryland has an explanation for its ineptness. Albert King, who is distinctive among Maryland players because he has heart, ability and court sense, didn't play the first 27 minutes. He has a bad foot. Maybe that had something to do with the Terps' aromatic behavior.

Or, maybe, it was all that blue.

Carolina blue, if you'll pardon the expression. Rhode Island's uniforms are a beautiful powder blue. Maryland has lost nine straight times to North Carolina's powder blue. The Terps, you had to believe, couldn't beat a team of Vida Blue, Little Boy Blue, Bluebeard, the Blue Angels and the Moody Blues.

And it didn't help any when the Rhode Island pep band struck up the Carolina fight song "at appropriate times," as cheerleader Dave Johnson put it.

If this game had any redeeming value, it lay in a wonderful statagem that -- Holy Chapel Hill! -- was first used by Dean Smith, the Carolina coach.

Rhode Island gained a tie at the end of the first overtime period when it suckered Maryland into a foul on an in-bounds play with one second left. Rhode Island coach Jack Kraft had John Nelson set a screen near the baseline as Phil Kydd ran the baseline as if trying to toss the ball inbounds.

Larry Gibson of Maryland, following Kydd, ran directly over Nelson. A foul was called. No time had left the clock because the ball had never been thrown in.

Nelson made both free throws for a 61-all tie. It was, Driesell said, 'a cheap foul."

No it wasn't. For Maryland, the unkindest irony of all is that Kraft was reminded of the stratagem by an assistant coach, Billy Hahn, who four years ago played for Driesell at Maryland.

Except for that single piece of genius, this game was an offense to all basketball. The presentation promised by the p.a. announcer should have been Purple Hearts to the paying customers. Enough, enough.