At half-time, Lefty Driesell was joyous. The crowd was filling his ears with boos as Maryland walked off the court down just two points; he threw his fist at 'em. Twice. He had the best boogeying college basketball team in the country doing a waltz step.
"Weren't really holding it," Driesell insisted after the 60-50 loss to top-ranked Houston in round two of the NCAA tournament. "Kinda teasing 'em. We call it our tease offense."
Maybe he was teasing us. That was vintage snoozeball, the sort of passive passing that forced the Atlantic Coast Conference into a shot clock this season. Driesell wants a clock for the NCAA tournament; he also wants to win, and figured the only way for that to happen today was to stall.
Very likely, he was right.
Houston is just enough larger, just enough faster and a whole lot more effective off the boards to whip the Terrapins in a high-speed game. By keeping the game close, Maryland had a chance to take advantage of the Cougars' weaknesses: lack of patience and free throw shooting.
What it takes to win that sort of gamble is error-free basketball. The bottom-line stat today was that the Terrapins had three more turnovers. They took the loss -- and some heat.
"Bewilderment," Reid Gettys said of the Cougars' reaction to Maryland's tactics. "I just don't understand stalling when you're behind. It seemed like they were content to lose by four. I don't understand how an athlete can tolerate that."
Gettys was not in a charitable mood. He and Adrian Branch tossed some elbows and adjectives at one another during the game, and Gettys was neither forgetting nor forgiving.
"Adrian Branch, is a fantastic player," he said. "But he was talkin" a lot of trash. In my own way, I let him know I won't play that way. I was disappointed at lowering myself to his level. He's a fantastic player, but he'd be better off if he just played basketball."
Gettys took his critical eye off Branch and glanced at the entire team.
"There's not a think in Maryland's program I'd want anything to do with," he added. "Jawin" and elbow throwin" don't do much to us. If anything, a little elbow throwin" helps us. With us, you don't want to throw any more wood on the fire."
For Maryland, the idea was to keep the ball in Branch's hands and out of Houston's. So his seven for 16 from the field and Ben Coleman's turnovers rather late in the second half were magnified.
"They didn't exactly blow us out," Driesell said.
Actually, it was a hurricane. When teams do to Maryland what Maryland did to Houston, Driesell says you should double the final differential. So a 60-50 loss in stallball is in reality a 20-point licking.
"I certainly don't blame him," Houston Coach Guy Lewis said, "and don't blame me for enjoying a 10-point win."
With no lie detector handy, Lewis said there was no malice in his ordering a semistall with about 13 minutes left in the game and Houston ahead by three points. The Cougars ran about 90 seconds off the clock before Gettys hit an 18-footer near the free throw line.
"Let 'em chase a bit," Lewis said. "they found out that wasn't much fun, either."
"The thing is that we played after they came out on us," Gettys added. "Our message was: "We're winning" you have to come after us." You can play catch all you want."
Branch was more concerned about himself than Gettys' mouth.
"At times," he said, "we were pretty effective. But I rushed a few shots, and ended up missing altogether. Most leapers go for head fakes. So that's what I was trying to do, get 'em in position where I could get a foul. Ended up getting nothing too often."
Teaseball, or whatever, was not Maryland's game this season. It couldn't be. So today was improvisation.
Clyde Drexler admitted it took some time to adjust, that here was Driesell saying one day that Houston ought to be worried and playing scared the next.
In truth, the few times the Cougars had to be themselves seemed to justify Driesell's decision. They hit the boards like sledgehammers. Akeem Abdul Olajuwon is what Patrick Ewing would be like had he been reared in Nigeria instead of suburban Boston.
Akeem (The Dream) is a force everywhere except the line. Sometimes, the Cougars are so bad at free throws it works to their advantage.
Twice, the ball bounded hard off missed foul shots today; each time Drexler soared over a Terrapin with inside position, got it and put it in.
Houston was as bad as advertised from the foul line, missing more than half its free throws. Unfortunately for the Terrapins, they were nearly as bad.
"I just think we're pretty good at (a delay offense)," Driesell insisted. "Most games Houston won were when they scored in the 90s and 100s. When they lost, or it was close, the scores were in the 60s. We wanted a game in the 502, and if it had been that way, we might well have won."
"It was a little closer than y'all thought it would be," he said.
For a while.