Well . . . it . . . was . . . about . . . the . . . most . . . miserable . . . game . . . you . . . can . . . imagine. Maryland . . . shot . . . 33 . . . percent . . . the . . . first . . . half . . . and . . . then . . . plummeted. Both . . . the . . . Terrapins . . . and . . . North . . . Carolina . . . State . . . got . . . what . . . they . . . deserved . . . from . . . fans. . . who . . . paid . . . thousands . . . of . . . dollars . . . to . . . watch . . . sporting . . . stagnation: angry boos.

That's what a column without a word clock would be like. That's how Maryland and State played in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament today. Stallball. Dick and Jane hoops: see Dutch pass; see Sidney pass; see everybody cut for the basket and nothing happen: see Adrian shoot now and then. Stop! Stop! Stop!

Some of these guys were so hamstrung they couldn't get 10 points in a layup drill, the pace slow enough to make a turtle resemble a gazelle. Michael Jordan of North Carolina scored more points all by himself in the first half of the opening game (14) than either State or Maryland managed in the first 20 minutes of their filibuster.

Part of the problem was coaching. What the money angels who bankroll ACC basketball should have done to make certain the game would not be abused was to order Lefty Driesell and Jim Valvano out of the gym before the slowdown stinker began. Or whipped out a checkbook and told 'em they could have $15,000 each if they'd go fishing this afternoon and let the players go at each other the way they wanted.

"I don't think any player likes to play in a game like this," said the winning center, Chuck Nevitt. "We were as disappointed and as frustrated as the fans. If I was a fan, I'd be pretty angry. No excitement. It was so slow that when you do get the ball and have to do something with it, the composure and rhythm just isn't there."

Exactly.

Both Valvano and Driesell want a shot clock. The State coach says 45 seconds would be fine, more than enough time to sight sensibly and fire. He thinks the Sun Belt Conference has the right idea: a shot clock until the last four minutes, so the team that works hardest for the lead isn't penalized by having to keep putting it up.

Driesell said 30 seconds would be better.

"A 10-second clock would be all right with me," he huffed after the 40-28 loss. "Somebody told me a couple years ago we shot the ball every seven seconds. That's what I like to do. I don't like to play this way, but everybody else is.

"They're the lowest-scoring team in the conference, so I'm sure not going out there and run up and down the court with 'em."

In fact, State and Maryland were tied for low offense in ACC games, with an average of 52.7 points. State was the only ACC team not to average at least 60 points the entire season. So this matchup of teams that don't want to play made the bile buildup in purists all the higher.

These were the two teams that eight years ago played one of the most enjoyable tournament games in conference history, State winning, 103-100, in overtime. That might be as close to sporting heaven as some of us will get; today was purgatory.

Numbers insist this wasn't the worst ACC tournament game ever. In truth, it was reckless, racehorse basketball compared to State's 12-10 sleeper against Duke in the '68 semifinals. Dreadful as Maryland's 27.3 field-goal percentage was, it doesn't even crack the worst five, Duke having missed nine of the 11 shots it tried in '68.

It was sad enough, and the only way to effect change is for the cornerstone of the conference--those fat cats booing in the stands--to stop underwriting stallball. They ought to say: if you're not gonna play, we're not gonna pay.

As Clemson's Bill Foster says, reasonably, "If it ain't broken, don't fix it."

He means: why tinker with a product people can't seem to get enough of?

"We don't seem to have trouble filling the house," said Valvano. But he added: "I'm not only suggesting we (the ACC coaches) talk about it (ways to speed up the game); I think the Atlantic Coast Conference should be a leader. I heard Lou Henson (of Illinois) say he'll bring it up at their (Big Ten) meetings.

"I was a player and a fan before I was a coach."

Each coach was trying to blame the other for all the nonaction, though it says here Valvano had the superior team and should be spanked harder. Why, he was asked, did State pass and pass and pass--and then throw up a dumb shot?

"Which time do you mean?" he said.

Serious and silly at times during his postgame press conference, Valvano was realistic when he volunteered: "We must be doing something pretty decent, even if it's not pretty."

State is winning, 22-8 at the moment. Lefty has been lauded for hatching victories by sitting on the ball. Bullfeathers. The game was meant to be played, not delayed.