The man with the implacable face of a living skull, Albert King, led Maryland to the kind of workmanlike yet outwardly uninspiring victory end, determine how long and how well this Terp basketball team will be remembered.
For those who saw Maryland's flying circus score 114 points in Cole Field House the previous night, the Terps' efficient but soporific win over St. Joseph's, 74-57, for the championship of the Maryland Invitational Tournament, was a pleasant but somehow unsatisfying treat.
This is the deceit that often lies at the heart of winning college basketball. What is most spectacular, most crowd pleasing, is seldom what is most highly rewarded in such spoilsport affairs as the ACC or NCAA tournament. Last night, believe it or not, Maryland did not score a single fast-break layup. The quintet of transition wizards who had tramped Marshall's Thundering Herd on Monday were slowed to a jog by the Hawks, whose first order of business was to prevent Maryland from having fun.
Nevertheless, thanks to offensive patience and defensive tenacity, Maryland held St. Joseph's to 23 points in the first 25 minutes, built an 18-point lead soon after intermission and waltzed to a comfortable, poised win over a solid team with a 7-2 record.
King, the flashiest of the Terps when the occasion demands, was the epitome of polished, restrained play this evening. He had game-high totals of 20 points and 12 rebounds and he won the MIT's MVP award for the third consecutive year. That second appropriate, as Maryland won this event for the ninth time in 10 years.
When St. Joe's tried half-court pressure, King was the man in the middle at midcourt cracking the back of the defense and finding the open man. On defense, King was constantly helping teammates and even controlling the defensive boards when the Hawks' 6-foot-10 freshman. Tony Costner, was blocking Buck Williams off the boards. And on offense, King was the consummate opportunist, as always.
Lurking around the key, he flashed in the lane for a sudden jumper, or went baseline for his spinning, going-the-wrong-way pop shot. This all-America is both Skull King for his somber, intimidating, unflappable visage, but also "skulking" for the way he slithers through defense, finds the open spot, then ascends into heaven for his quick-release points.
Only basketball junkies could have found ways to love this game, in which Maryland took a 10-2 lead, as nervous St. Joe's committed six of its 19 turnovers in its first 10 possessions, then never had to contend with a serious threat. For satisfaction, one would have to notice how Maryland, stopped repeatedly on its first fast break, would whirl the ball around quickly in a hurry-up-before-they're-ready type of offense called the "sdcondary break." Anyone who can successfully identify a secondary break in progress has probably been to too many clinics. Nonetheless, the Terps maintained that they had a good one. So, they probably did.
Maryland's only annoyance, after holding St. Joe's leading scorer, 6-8 Boo Williams, without a point in the second half, came from Coach Lefty Driesell, who seemed saddened, and perhaps even slightly miffed that this MIT, which he created, will apparently now become extinct.
"I been tellin' em for seven years that if they'd include these two MIT games on the season ticket package that we'd sell it out," said Driesell, delighted by the crowd of 13,779 that more than doubled the sorry attendance for both of last year's games combined. "But I don't run this place. I just coach the basketball team. We had some weak teams scheduled for next year, so Coach (Athletic Director) Kehoe canceled the tournament.
"Am I sorry? Well, I don't know. I started a Christmas tournament at Davidson and the one here. But, now, since Title 9, if you don't make a million dollars out of a project, you can't have it. I'm sure Coach Kehoe's right that if we use the two dates for regular games, and don't have to split the gate four ways, we'll make more money. Maybe the only way we'll have the tournament next year is if we schedule three women's teams and us."
It should be mentioned that Driesell said these words with considerably less asperity, and more smiles, that it would seem when they are read off a page. Actually, Driesell has very little about which to be upset these days.
This tournament was a present to the Terps this year. A veteran team with three starting seniors, Maryland has seldom produced a team with more calm self-assurance or pleasure in its own play. Many of these same players, just three and four years ago, were part of a troubled team with too much surly talent on the bench. Now, they find themselves part of the sort of team contentment about which all young players dream.
As King walked out of the locker room during this MIT, Driesell slapped his hand and said, "Way to play Al."
"Way to coach, Coach," said King.
"Finally!" said Driesell. "It took me four years to get you trained."