Marshall's Thundering Herd came into Cole Field last night and ran into Maryland's Lightening Herd. Like the fella said, "Thunder is fine. Thunder is impressive. But lightening does the work."
Maryland's ninth-ranked Terrapins, who don't have a drop of turtle blood in their whole collective racehorse circulatory system, played their most exciting game thus far this season as they inflicted awful fast-break indignities on a talented, but overmatched, Marshall University team. The final score was 114-89.
Maryland's winning margin in the first round of its own invitational tournament does not begin to measure the pleasure that the Terps gave their holiday crowd of 13,211.
"Our ears perked up as soon as we saw that they were going to play the same style we do," said senior Greg Manning. "They like to run, play man-to-man defense and they're about our size. So, we could see from the start that it was going to be a wide-open transition game. And we're a great transition team.
"In fact," Manning said, "Marshall plays exactly like we do, about six inches lower."
In tonight's 9 p.m. championship, Maryland will meet a St. Joseph team that is the tactical opposite of Marshall. St. Joe's, which beat Bowling Green, 87-76, last night to improve its record to 7-1, has made its mark with defense and deliberation.
Marshall, after crawling from its own reckage last night, probably wishes it had used similar patience against the Terps.
In Huntington, W. Va., where Marshall had built most of its 7-1 record in "Herd Heaven" this season, the laws of physics and aerodynamics are seldom violated with such disregard as the Terps showed tonight. The Maryland triumvirate of Buck Williams, Ernest Graham and Albert King, whom losing coach Bob Zuffelato described as "three dadgone first-round NBA draft choices," played on a stratospheric level tonight.
"That's the best we've run all year," said King. "It was very enjoyable."
"Run?" Manning said. "That's the best we've played. And it's probably the most fun we've had since last year against Duke (a 101-82 victory here). We snapped the ball around, created things. It was like a highlight film, but good highlights, not just hot-dog stuff."
But, courtsey of Coach Lefty Driesell, the sense of theater was there as well. One by one, he took out his stars at the very moment when they had made spectacular plays to crown their excellent nights.
First, Williams, who had 17 points and upped his incredible shooting percentage from the floor this season to 74.0 with a six-for-six night, made a hanging, midair three-point play. That exit line, however, was no match for the awesome dunk he threw down on poor 6-foot-8, 225-pound Larry Watson just moments earlier.
"I threw the pass to Buck too high, but he just kept going up," said guard Dutch Morley. "Then, he went back up from about 10 feet out on the baseline. I thought he was going to jump entirely over the guy. Then he just wound up and slammed it. It was the best dunk I ever saw."
Next, it was King, who had 26 points and five assists, who got a standing ovation after scoring 17 points in 10 second-half minutes as the Terps expanded a 52-41 halftime lead to 86-66.
Following King, it was Graham who put on a personal gunning show as he scored eight points in the next two minutes, well aware that his playing time for the evening was coming to an end. After one final dunk, on which he hung onto the rim and was called for a technical, Graham left with 29 points and Maryland ahead, 96-69.
But the Terps just kept on running. Manning made his final bow after his fast-break 180-degree-spin reverse layup for a three-point play ran the margin to 99-69 with 7:34 still to play.
"I've got to thank Lefty," said Zuffelato. "He showed compassion. He called off the dogs with a lot of time left when he could have gone for a 40-point win to impress the polls.
"We were just outclassed. I look at Maryland and I see where we want to go. But we're not there, not by a Buck Williams and an Alber King. Maybe I shouldn't have let my kids go head to head with 'em and run, but jeez, that's just not me. Our kids need to play uptempo. I don't want my kids to think I'm afraid to let 'em play full speed against anybody."
Zuffellto laughed: "Made a big mistake. Didn't I?"