First of all, let's hear it for the Maryland fans:
Gimme a B.
Gimme a U.
Gimme an S.
Gimme an H.
What do you have?
Turtle watchers surely are the biggest front-runners in athletic history. No team ever got less from a home crowd during a game it needed so badly than Maryland yesterday in Cole Field House. For sure, the Terrapins were dreadful at times, cautious and not too bright. But the fans gave up against North Carolina long before the team did.
Cheerleaders actually could hear themselves cheer. The few times that it was necessary, Carolina could hear itself think. The officials must have thought this was a neutral court. Al Wood thought so.
He was talking about the moment Maryland lost its last chance to win -- and that came much, much later than nearly everyone realized. The Tar Heels have frittered away leads nerly as large as yesterday's.
That was happening midway through the second half. The Terps whittled a 20-point deficit to seven and had the ball. Albert King missed a shot and Buck Williams grabbed the rebound. As Williams moved to power the ball back up for what seemed a certain dunk and possible three-point play, Wood took a swipe for it.
A foul, his fifth, seemed inevitable. Which would create the best possible scenario for Maryland: Carolina's best player would be out of the game with seven minutes left. And the Tar heels' four-corners offense is better in reputation than fact this season.
But no foul was called. Slippery Al got away with a steal. He had some accomplices. Several thousand.
"Lucky I got away with it," he said. "I'm glad we had good officials. Lots of times an official will get caught up in the crowd and let it influence him. He'll make a call cause intimidates him. That didn't happen then."
Maryland fans couldn't intimidate Mr. Peepers yesterday.
But the team did give them every cause to be depressed. Carolina is very good, but hardly invincible. Horrendous as recently as its last game, a Wednesday blowout by Wake Forest at home. And Maryland had beaten a good team that shot 64 percent a night later. If the Terps were ever in a position to atone for their season of sins, this was it.
Instead of playing well, though, they played predictably. Just when everyone assumes they have reached the depths, that they cannot possibly be any worse on defense or passing under pressure, they outdo themselves. The only time Wood's path was interrupted yesterday was during his walk through a herd of reporters on the way to the dressing room after the 13-point victory.
The Heels do not have any more talent than the Terps, but they are infinitely better at featuring it. When King was called for two early fouls, Carolina fed Wood more often than a mother with a new-born. King accomplished a rarity yesterday, taking the Terps out of the game the first half and bringing them back the second.
Much of the pregame intrigue involved how both teams would react. Each needed victory badly, but Maryland much more than Carolina. We have seen how Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell reacts to adversity this season. But what had Dean Smith done after that 16-point loss to Wake?
Most coaches would react by assuming the loss was an aberration. Dismiss it, they would say. And as quickly as possible. But Smith wanted that "humiliation" to linger. He wanted it burned into his players' minds.
"He didn't like some of our quotes after the game," said Mike Pepper. "Some of us were saying we'd try to forget it -- and soon. But he said to us: 'I'm glad you can forget. I certainly can't. I hope you learn something from it.'"
Either they did, or they already knew how to attack Maryland. Against the Terps' man-for-man defense, Sam Perkins would draw Buck Williams away from the basket and James Worthy and Wood could get open on whim, and especially on King and Ernie Graham. Need a quick hoop? Press Maryland's point guard at midcourt and watch someone in blue quickly soaring for a layup.
"We got together (without the coaches) some after the Wake game," Pepper said. "We wanted revenge."
"We decided, why waste all the chance to be a great team?" said Worthy. "It's okay to lose if you've made a great effort. Like we did against Virginia. But against Wake we didn't put out the kind of effort we can. By that I mean mental effort."
Where Terrapin minds have been in important moments of games worth watching has been a two-month mystery. The little team that could last year has become the veteran team that plays frightened.
"There's a lot of difference in being the hunter and the hunted," said Smith in perhaps the most telling analysis of the Terrapins. Last season, Maryland snuck up on the basketball world the way Jimmy Carter did on the real world in '76. This season, with the world watching and every opponent obsessed with beating them, the Terps' potential has been too much to bear.
Now they are acting like losers. From King, Graham and Greg Manning, who ducked reporters yesterday, to Driesell, who let them get away with it.And to the fans who booed them -- and then ignored them. These are not bad youngsters; they are good players confused and frustrated at playing badly.