He might have cursed. He might have flailed his arms in angry disbelief. His team was a single point behind with a minute and a half to play. His work had brought his team from nine points behind. And then the referee's whistle said Hawkeye Whitney had committed his fifth foul. Whitney smiled.
He nodded in assent.
He tapped the referee on the backside.
And then Hawkeye Whitney, without whom North Carolina State is an average basketball team incapable of beating Maryland, ran to the other end of the floor.
He waved together his teammates.
He shouted to freshman Sidney Lowe to come here.
There at the free throw line, Hawkeye Whitney, who could play no more this night, pulled his buddies together in a semicircle and youcould see his head moving in a vigorous speech and he was pointing a finger at each player and then, when Whitney turned to leave to take his seat on the bench, he rubbed his hand across freshman Thurl Bailey's head.
Maryland won the game, 66-62. Without Whitney, N.C. State was crippled offensively. He had scored 25 points, including State's last eight before he fouled out.
It was a nice night of college basketball at Cole Field House. A year ago this Maryland-N.C. State game produced 234 points, the Terps winning, 124-110. That night was a gawdawful show of alley ball, the downtown YMCA at lunch hour. This time Maryland played disciplined basketball. It put up only 42 shots and made 24. State was almost as good at 27-for-48.
It was nice to see Maryland scramble and work on defense in both their man-to-man and zone. And it was nice to see the Terps taking the shots they can make -- Albert King practically anything inside 15 feet, Greg Manning that 15-footer that sets up his driving layups, Buck Williams everything at the bucket.
For the first time in 11 seasons now, Lefty Dresel has produced a Maryland team that has won six of its first seven Atlantic Coast Conference games. Even the 1973-74 teams that took State's David Thompson and Tom Burleson to the wire in the ACC tournament champship game --losing an all-timer, 103-100 -- was only 4-3 in ACC games at this point.
All of which is nice.
Almost as nice as the way Hawkeye Whitney fouled out. He did it majestically. State was pressing. Whitney tried to flick the ball away from Maryland's Greg Manning.
"It was a stupid foul," Whitney said later. "I had no business reaching in. But I did.""
Was he upset with the call?
"I was more upset with myself. I took myself out of the game. I don't try to judge the referee's calls, anyway. The referee is human and he just calls what he sees. I'm not going to judge his calls."
A lot of people do.
"Why? Why go through a lot of hassle? Why try and get him to change his call? They're entitled to call what they see."
Whitney is one of two seniors on the State roster. He is a 6-foot-5 forward who leads the team in scoring with a 20.1 average. He learned how to play, and he learned how to foul out, at DeMatha High School under Coach Morgan Wootten.
"I told them to keep playing hard, I told them they had to come out and play hard because the ball game isn't over," Whitney said of his speech to his teammates at the free throw line.
State didn't quit.
It tied the game at 62 when Sidney Lowe, another De Matha graduate, a 5-9 guard, came flying over 6-6 Albert King to tip in a shot with 36 seconds to play.
It was a nice play. Not that Lowe expected to tip it in. Five-9 guards don't belong inside. But Lowe knows the game. As Kenny Matthews' 20-footer went up from the right corner. Lowe, on the left side of the free throw line, noticed that King was in the middle of the lane.
That left Lowe a route to the hoop.
"I don't think Albert saw me coming," Lowe said. "So I just tried to go up and keep the ball alive. I tried to knock it in, sure. But I didn't know if I was going to get it."
But with Whitney on the bench -- twisting a towel sometimes, crouched in front of his seat other times, an all-American cheerleader -- N.C. State had only one legitmate offensive threat, the long-range shooting of Matthews.
With 11 seconds left, State needed a bucket to tie it.
"It was a fine ball game," said State Coach Norm Sloan. "Maryland has a great basketball team and they're playing well right now. We had a chance at the end and we didn't get it into the hole. That's about all you can ask against a team as good as Maryland.
With 11 seconds to go, Lowe had the ball in the corner and he looked to the top of the key for Matthews."Too dangerous a pass," Lowe said. He drove on the baseline, where Maryland's 6-10 Taylor Baldwain waited.
"So I went under to reverse the layup," Lowe said.
Baldwin blocked it anyway.
Lowe didn't complain. A good block, he said.
And when the game ended four seconds later Whitney walked toward midcourt, the towel in hand, and he stopped to say nice game to Buck Williams. Whitney smiled when he said it.