The NCAA tournament committee made official today what Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell had been saying for 10 days: The ACC tournament did not mean much to the Terps.
Even if Albert King's 18-foot jump shot had crawled over the rim to beat Duke in the tournament final, the Terps probably would be just where they are today: getting ready to return here Saturday for a second-round game against the Furman-Tennessee winner.
Maryland has been seeded second, behind Syracuse, in the Eastern regional. The other first-round game in Greensboro will match Iowa and Virginia Commonwealth, the winner to play North Carolina State in Saturday's second round.
If Maryland wins its first game it could meet Georgetown in the regional semifinals in Piladelphia. That would suit the Terps just fine, since they would love another shot at the Hoyas, who beat them in December while Buck Williams was injured.
But even though Driesell has talked about the NCAA and the irrelevance of the ACC championship, his players did not take Saturday night's loss so lightly. In fact, they clearly were devastated by it.
Fourty-five minutes after Duke's 73-72 win no one Maryland player had made a move to get out of uniform. King and Greg Manning sat in a back room staring at the floor.
Williams, returning from the training room where he had take four stitches for a cut suffered while dunking in the first half, sat down in front of his locker, started answering questions and burst into tears.
"I just thought we deserved this more than anyone in the conference." he said. "I thought we were the best team. We were the best all year long. We played hard for 40 minutes."
Much of the talk was about the game's final play. King, who scored 27 points in the final and 81 for the tournament to win MVP honors, had shot over Duke center Mike Gminski. The ball hit the rim, bounced a little -- just enough so Williams couldn't get a clear shot at tipping it in -- and rolled off. As Willimas came down he landed on Duke forward Kenny Dennard.
"I though it was a foul," Williams said. "But it doesn't matter now. They won the game, give them credit."
Certainly, both teams deserved credit for producing a superb final, one that may rate behind only the 1974 Maryland-N.C. State double-over-time classic.
This was a game in which Duke scored on 15 of 20 second-half possesions, made 15 of 19 shots that half -- 79 percent -- and still came within an inch of losing.
This was a game that matched up two of the college game's most magnificent players, King and Eugene Banks. These two forwards dominated this tournament. In fact, as one observer put it, they were this tournament.
For Driesell, it was another in a long series of disappointments in this tournament. He frequently has pointed out that Maryland has played some of its best basketball here the last 11 years, only to fall just short each time. The Terps hve played in four finals under Driesell, losing three by a total of six points. The largest of those margins was the thre-point double-overtime loss to State.
Driesell was dry-eyed after the loss, unlike his players, many of whom insisted it had hurt him even more than it hurt them.
"It has to hurt Coach worse than anybody," said Ernest Graham. "He's tried so hard for so long to win this. People keep knocking him because he's never won this tournament. It isn't right."
But as Driesell pointed out, the game meant little in terms of his main goal: gaining the NCAA tournament.
"If this was the end of the line I wouldn't be standing here clamly talking to you," he said. "I don't care where we play. I'm certain we'll be ready. Losing this might strengthen our resolve to win the NCAAs. It could work out in our favor."
Maryland's draw is a reasonable one. It should get by the first game into a matchup with the Georgetown-Iona winner with little difficulty. If the Terps win there, it would be the regional final, with Syracuse the favorite to be their opponent.
"I hope before the NCAA's are over I get a chance to take a shot to win at the end," King said, head still down. "Because if I do, this time it will go in."