After 27 games, Lefty Driesell wasn't about to change tactics. So even against Richmond tonight, the Terrapins played deliberately despite a decisive edge in talent over an opponent that at times had trouble completing the simplest passes.
The result: Maryland 66, Richmond 50. The victory advanced the Terrapins into a second round National Invitation Tournament game against Georgia Monday night in Athens.
Driesell described his players' efforts "as one of our best games of the year." Certainly, Maryland dominated almost from the beginning and never trailed after the teams were tied at 11. Richmond couldn't contend with the Terrapins' superior athletic ability or their 58 percent shooting.
Maryland also got a lift from center Charles Pittman, returning to full-time action after breaking a foot with five games left in the regular season.
Pittman, who played eight minutes in the ACC tournament, was on the court for 33 tonight, scoring six points and getting five rebounds. Just as important to Maryland, his foot felt fine, he said.
"I just went out and tried not to think about it," Pittman said. "Coach told me that if it hurt in warm-ups, to tell him and he'd keep me out. But it felt fine. I was very pleased about that."
Richmond Coach Dick Tarrant thought that Maryland would try to build up a big lead against his Spiders, who had been beaten decisively by a number of teams despite an 18-10 record entering the game.
But Driesell eliminated that concern by holding the ball periodically during the second half, sometimes to force Richmond out of its zone and sometimes just to run down the clock.
"I don't know why he (Tarrant) said that about us trying to blow them out," Driesell said. "Who have we blown out this year? This is as good as we are going to beat anybody this year."
This was an important game in the history of Richmond basketball. The Spiders, who had never played in a postseason tournament, attracted the largest crowd ever (9,373) to Robbins Center. But the late-arriving fans weren't even settled before Maryland went in front and diminished the excitement.
Richmond was too aggressive. The Spiders tried to be physical with Maryland and instead wound up throwing away passes and committing turnovers. Those mistakes, plus the outside first-half shooting of zone-buster Pete Holbert (four for six, eight points in the half), helped the Terrapins build a 31-24 halftime lead.
Then Maryland put the game out of reach early in the second half when Richmond went seven minutes without a field goal. By the time the Spiders got going, Maryland was ahead, 48-33.
Richmond closed to nine later in the half, but couldn't do any better despite the crowd's urging. The Spiders couldn't cope with Maryland's spread offense or the quickness of forward Adrian Branch, who had 21 points and did a fine defensive job on John Schweitz, Richmond's best player. Schweitz ended with 16 but did little scoring during the game's important stages.
To win, the Spiders knew they had to control the tempo. But 14 turnovers, many of them unforced, quickly eliminated that tactic. Richmond players spent much of the night throwing passes out of bounds through teammates' legs or shooting foul shots that, in one case, missed so badly they resembled a slice in golf.
"We thought it would be closer," Terrapin forward Mark Fothergill said. "They were 15-2 here, and had beaten Wake Forest. But we want to get to New York. That's what is really important."
Besides starting Pittman, Driesell made one other lineup change, replacing Jeff Adkins at guard with Reggie Jackson.
"Reggie's a senior," Driesell explained, "and Jeff has been tight, so I decided to start Reggie. I thought he played well." Jackson had eight points in 26 minutes.
Now Driesell can turn his attention to Georgia (17-11), which has one of college's best players, Dominique Wilkins.
"I don't know anything about them," Driesell said. "But you can be sure I will before I go to sleep tonight."