It takes one word to sum up Maryland's heart-stopping 70-69 conquest of North Carolina last night:
Amen to the end of the Terrapins' five-game losing streak in Cole Field House against the Tar Heels.
Amen to the cessation of Dean Smith's personal hex over Lefty Driesell.
Amen to the overcoming of Carolina's amazing penchant for final-second heroics -- especially, its seems, in College Park's favorite building.
And finally, amen and just about farewell to the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title chase.Get ready to stamp that trophy with a big red M.
It was anything but easy for the Terps. Not until Albert King and Reggie Jackson teamed to knock the ball away from John Virgil with one second left did Maryland secure this victory bringing the Terps a 9-1 ACC record; 17-3 overall. They command a three-game lead in the conference race over North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia, all 6-4, with four games left. The Tar Heels are 16-5 overall.
"The important thing is we were picked for sixth in this league and Carolina was picked for first. Now we're three games ahead in February," said Coach Driesell. "We're whipping up on ranked teams and that's what counts."
This was not a whipping, but it served the purpose.
In fact, Carolina left the building insisting it had been robbed on the game's final play.
"There were two fouls on the last play," Smith insisted. "First (Al) Wood was fouled in the corner, then Virgin was held when we tried to get him the ball."
"Yeah, I was fouled," said Wood, who led all scorers with 27 points. "I was the decoy and when I went through the middle they held me. It was definately a foul."
But rookie referee Willie Brown, stituated under the basket, saw no foul. Thus, when Jimmy Black tried to inbound the ball to Virgil, King tapped it from behind and Reggie Jackson swiped it to midcourt as time ran out.
That saved the Terps from blowing the last of an 11-point lead and from what could have been a painful case of deja vu. Last year Wood beat them here with a 30-foot jump shot with one second left and Maryland leading by one.
"Of course it ran through my mind during the last timeout," said King, who led the Terps with 20 points and a brilliant defensive performance. "I remembered last year and just said to the guys we have to play tough defense.
"I really expected Wood to get the ball, though. I was surprised when it went to Virgil."
Carolina had the final chance because the Terps turned complacement in the final five seconds. King had made two foul shots for a 70-67 lead with :05 left. Instead of pressuring the inbounds pass Maryland allowed Rich Yonakor to throw the ball unmolested to Wood for a layup with three seconds left.
The Tar Heels used their final timeout. On the ensuing inbounds play they blocked King away from the ball and Dutch Morley tried to get it in the Ernest Graham. But he lobbed the ball long and Graham just touched it as it went out of bounds at sidecourt.
Now it was Driesell's turn to call time to set his defense with two seconds to go. He was a bit confused at that point, thinking the last play would either go to Wood or Mike O'Koren -- O'Koren had fouled out.
But it didn't matter.
"I was really just trying to decide whether to play zone or man," Driesel said. "I was inclined to go with the zone but I asked the kids what they wanted to do and they said let's play man, so we did."
King was assigned to Virgil, Graham to Wood. There was definitely contact as Wood broke for the corner as the decoy but the ball never came near him. Instead it went to Virgil, who never got control with King right behind him.
"It's nice to win a game like this where they have the last shot," King said. "Maybe this will end the Carolina jinx."
Jinxes had little to do with the outcome of this superb game. The first half was scintillating, so glittery that Carolina shot 63 percent and trailed, 44-38, at the intermission.
Things slowed considerably the second half but when Greg Manning (17 points) hit three straight jumpers, the last with 12:47 left for a 56-45 Maryland lead, it appeared the Terps were going to walk in unmolested.
"Even when we got in the hole we still played confident," said O'koren, author of 18 points, eight rebounds and five assits. "We played tough, straight-up man-to-man and that helped us get back in."
The Terps helped. After Manning's last jumper, Driesell ordered his spread offense that has been tremendously successful all season, especially when the Terps get the back-door-play going.
The Tar Heels had the back door locked. "They scouted us very well," said Buck Williams, who took a pounding inside all night, "We weren't able to get the plays off the 'two' (spread) offense that we usually do."
Specifically, the Terps went without a point after going to the spread, allowing Carolina to cut the gap to 56-53 before a Manning layup with 5:40 left broke the drought.
"We went to the spread too soon," Driesell said. "It's worked well before but tonight we were a little hesitant out of it. It cost us our momentum."
The lead fluctuated between one and three during the final four minutes. Three times in the last minute the Terps went to the line with one-and-one and a one-point lead. First Williams with 36 seconds left, then King with 14 and again with five seconds left, went to the line and made both shots.
But it still came down to Carolina setting up for a last-second chance to win for the sixth straight time in Cole.
"They played perfect down the stretch," Williams said. "But we hung on. This Maryland team hangs on in the clutch."