efty Driesell is never happy when he loses. But his attempt to keep a sour face Saturday after Maryland lost to top-ranked Houston was unsuccessful. If seasons are judged by what should have been, there's little wonder a smile nearly showed up on Driesell's face.

"I think we've had a surprisingly good season," he said. "We started the year with six new players and ended up winning 20 games and getting into the NCAA playoffs. I think we fooled a lot of people this season. It's been a satisfying year, too, because I think we (as coaches) got more out of this group than we did out of the team when Albert King was a senior (1980-81)."

More encouraging, the Terrapins won those 20 games and finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference without any seniors. Every player, as of now, is scheduled to return next season, including Herman Veal, the junior cocaptain who was ruled ineligible the final four games as a result of disciplinary probation. Veal will be eligible immediately following summer school.

Also coming back will be Adrian Branch, who as a sophomore playing a new position (guard) averaged 19 points per game. Center Ben Coleman, who made first team all-ACC in his first season as a transfer, averaged 15 points and eight rebounds. "A little bit more and I'll be ready to call him a horse," Driesell said, using a word he usually reserves for Buck Williams.

There's also Len Bias, the 6-foot-8 forward with the smooth jumper who has improved dramatically during the season, plus Jeff Adkins, Steve Rivers, Jeff Baxter, Mark Fothergill and Ed Farmer.

And joining those top nine will be Keith Gatlin, the Parade all-America from Greenville, N.C., who is widely acknowledged as the best point guard prospect in the nation, and Terry Long, a 6-8 power forward from Richmond.

Gatlin, if as good as many expect, should give the Terrapins the true play maker they haven't had since the days of Brad Davis. His presence should also allow Maryland to run more and free Branch of so much ball handling responsibility.

The biggest problem could be finding adequate playing time for all those players.

"All in all, I think it's pretty encouraging," said Coleman, "to have won 20 games we made it a lot further than most people expected. And to have everybody returning, plus to high school all-Americas, things look pretty good."

The Terrapins didn't look too good, however, against Houston, which may have the best athletes of any team in the NCAA tournament. Realizing that, Driesell decided to play stallball. All that did was delay the inevitable.

"They used that double post offense and it didn't do anything," Houston guard Reid Gettys said of the Terrapins. "They just kept handing Branch the ball and then standing around. It's not like they were cutting and moving to set screens."

Regardless, Maryland trailed by only two at halftime. But Houston grew accustomed to the half-court game in the second half, threw in a delay of its own, and eased to a 60-50 victory before 15,400 at the Summit, which is not Houston's home court during the season.

Branch led the Terrapins with 20 points and showed he is just as effective without the three-point shot and 30-second clock.

"I think this has been a pretty good year, overall," Branch said. "There were some times that we were inconsistent, and that's when we showed the inexperience of having six new players. But now we've been together for a whole year. I'm looking forward to next year."

"So am I," said Driesell.