Adrian Branch stood in a corner of the locker room and acted like a radio announcer calling the game that had just ended: "Rivers from 20 feet! A three-pointer for Steve Rivers. Maryland gets the rebound. . . pass to Rivers . . . he shoots from 22 feet. Another three-pointer for Rivers!"
Branch said all anybody needed to know about Maryland's 86-81 Atlantic Coast Conference victory over North Carolina State at Cole Field House last night.
Steve Rivers, a 6-foot-2 junior reserve guard, scored a career-high 29 points, 18 during a five minute stretch of the first half. He made 11 of 14 shots, six of seven three-point attempts.
Two weeks ago he had cried in the locker room about not getting enough playing time. Last night, after a standing ovation from 13,750 in Cole, Rivers was dry-eyed and understandably elated.
"Sure, I'm happy I got the chance to contribute," he said. "We had worked all week on taking better advantage of the three-point shot, because we hadn't been doing it. We had several guys who penetrated North Carolina State's zone defense and kicked the ball back out to me for open 20-footers. All the other teams are shooting it. Why can't we?"
Maryland is 11-5 overall and 2-3 in the ACC.
The Wolfpack (9-7, 3-4) was caught off guard by Rivers' performance.
"We were so concerned with stopping Adrian Branch and Ben Coleman, that we cheated toward them with our defense," said State Coach Jim Valvano. "When Rivers came in, we figured, 'Well, let's see what he's got, coming off the bench.' He showed us."
Wolfpack guard Sidney Lowe said, "Rivers just isn't known for coming off the bench and scoring like that."
But nine minutes into the game, Rivers replaced Branch, partly because Branch was still a bit woozy from an auto accident on Thursday but largely because Coach Lefty Driesell had seen Rivers shoot well in practice all week.
Rivers made a 15-footer to put break a 14-all tie, then the first three-pointer for a 19-17 Maryland lead. His second three-pointer increased the margin to 29-22.
Not only were Rivers' shots falling, but they were forcing the Wolfpack's guards to come out and stop sagging around Coleman.
"Everybody on Steve's side had to play honest defense," said Coleman. "Getting around inside just seemed much easier." Coleman made all eight of his shots and scored 21 points.
With such a strong inside-outside combination, the Terrapins built a 77-60 lead with three minutes to play.
North Carolina State tried to come back behind the three-point shooting of 6-foot guard Terry Gannon, his team's primary outside shooter now with senior Dereck Whittenburg out until the end of February with a broken foot.
Gannon made no two-pointers, but sank seven of nine three-point attempts. State outscored Maryland, 15-6, in the last 1:27 but the outcome was never in doubt.
"It wasn't that close, but, yet, with the three-pointer, it was that close," reasoned Valvano.
The victory was Maryland's fourth straight and was even sweeter because the Terrapins had lost three straight to N.C. State last season.
The players were glad for the victory and for Rivers.
"I'm glad he got a chance to show what he could do," said forward Herman Veal, who had 10 points, nine rebounds and, as Driesell said, "played his usual consistent game."
"Rivers was unreal," said forward Mark Fothergill. "It was ridiculous the way he was shooting. He was about as hot as you can get."
Said Branch: "The man was out of his mind."
Driesell called him "sensational."
Rivers was asked if he thought his "chance" might never come.
"I've tried to keep a good attitude," he said. "I didn't expect to go out there and do that. But I kept hoping my time will come."
Now his time may be here.
With Maryland finally taking advantage of the three-point shot, some people thought Driesell might soften his criticism of the new rule.
He took one look at the stat sheet and found that while Maryland had made six of 12 three-pointers, State had made 14 of 23. "I still ain't thrilled about it,'' Driesell said.