Maryland Athletic Director Carl James, who on Tuesday declined to say whether he was satisfied with Lefty Driesell's coaching, said last night the Terrapin basketball coach will be back next season.

"He definitely will be back, regardless of what I said," James said. "We're got a good staff and good players. I hope all the coaches will be back."

Driesell, whose team defeated Rhode Island in three overtimes last night in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, said afterward:

"I think that's a joke, the whole thing's a joke. I don't know what they're talking about. I think all the stuff in the paper is just a joke."

Driesell, who needs to beat Ohio State on Monday to average 20 victories per season for his 10-year career at Maryland, said in response to a question that he has four years remaining on his contract.

Asked if he had any complaints about Tuesday's story, Driesell replied:

"No, just the headlines were blown out of proportion. I'm not worried about my job. Just put it that way.

"It's just a joke and I don't know what's going on. I just laugh it off, okay. I don't even want to honor it with a comment."

James' statement last night was the first confirmation by a Maryland official that Driesell would return as head coach.

Despite a 19-10 record, there have been unconfirmed reports in the newspapers and on radio and television that Maryland alumni were dissatisfied with Driesell and that James had been holding informal discussions with possible replacements.

James denied that he had any conversations with anyone about replacing Driesell.

The Maryland season would have ended alst night without the Terps having a chance against Ohio State for Driesell's 200th Maryland victory if it were not for two blunders by Rhode Island.

On the first, with the Rams in possession with a one-point lead and 13 seconds to play in regulation, Sly Williams drove for the basket, lost control, missed the shot and was called for a one-and-one foul for charging into Maryland's Buck Williams.

"We were talking to Sly and asked him well, now, you had four fouls and there were 13 seconds to play and we had the lead," said Rhode Island Coach Jack Kraft. "So why would you possibly get yourself into a position where you're letting a referee's judgment enter into a particular call.

"And he told me that he was going to go in and dribble to the other side. But those two fellas came down and blocked his path, so therefore he decided, "Well, the only thing I can do is take a shot." So he went up and took the shot and, unfortunately, he didn't make it and, unfortunately, they called the fifth foul on him."

The second mistake, a missed layup by Nick Johnson, a sophomore guard, following a steal of Dutch Morley's pass, would have won the game at the end of the second overtime.

"I've made that shot before hundreds of times. This time, when it really counted, I missed it."