Today, there was no fold. Today, Maryland's basketball players actually smiled in the locker room. Today, the Terrapins figured out how to hold onto a big lead.
With surprising ease, the Terrapins blew Tennessee right out of Sullivan Arena this afternoon, coasting to a 72-49 victory in the Great Alaska Shootout. The Terrapins got out of here with a 2-1 mark and fourth place in the tournament, based on record; Tennessee is 1-2 and might be facing a long season in the Southeastern Conference.
Today, the Volunteers made Maryland's defense, which was much better than the first two days of the tournament, look brilliant. They shot six for 22 from the field in the first half, enabling Maryland to turn a 16-13 lead with six minutes left into a 28-15 halftime lead. From there, the Terrapins pulled away steadily as Tennessee could do nothing to stop Len Bias and Keith Gatlin.
"We finally played 40 minutes instead of just 30," said Adrian Branch, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. "Seeing is believing. We knew coming up here we had the potential to be very good. Today, we finally showed that potential for a whole game."
Potential was evident everywhere today. Bias had 25 points and 10 rebounds, giving him 64 and 27 in the tournament. Gatlin, who had shot three for 15 the first two games and lamented, "I can't buy a basket in Alaska," was his old self with 14 points (six of seven shooting) and seven assists, most spectacular.
And there was Derrick Lewis. Driesell didn't start the 6-foot-7, 200-pound freshman but played him at center for 30 minutes. Lewis had only four points, but he had seven rebounds, three blocked shots -- five, according to Maryland's count -- and anchored the inside defense.
Lewis admits he would prefer playing forward. But he knows he is going to play center quite a bit.
"I'm still adjusting to playing college ball," he said. "I didn't think blocking shots would be that much of an adjustment and it hasn't been so far. If playing center is what Coach wants me to do, that's what I'll do."
Driesell and his players had several explanations why they breezed against Tennessee after Saturday's escape act against Alaska-Anchorage. "Maybe it was because I gave them steak last night," Driesell said. "I've had them on this new carbohydrates diet and they were complaining."
"We were weak because we didn't have any meat," Gatlin said, laughing.
Tennessee is a small team dependent on its guards for points. Today, Michael Brooks shot two for eight from the field and had five points. Tony White, who wasn't supposed to play because of a hip pointer, didn't start but scored 12 points, all after Maryland had a 20-point lead.
"They took advantage of us every place on the floor," said Tennessee Coach Don DeVoe. "You've got to give credit to Alaska-Anchorage. Maryland flirted with disaster against them and survived. Today, they were a different team."
DeVoe was asked where he thought his team had trouble: "Perimeter shooting, inside shooting, ball handling and looking your opponent in the eye and telling him, 'I'm gonna kick your butt.' "
Driesell was so disgusted with his team's 54-52 victory Saturday that he made his players look at game films that night. Today, they made it plain right away they did not want a second feature.
The last six minutes of the first half decided the game. Leading, 16-13, Maryland went on a 12-2 binge, most of the points created by the defense. After Bias tipped in Speedy Jones' miss, Gatlin made a steal for a layup. A block by Lewis led to another layup by Gatlin. And in the final minute, Branch made a steal for a basket and Bias made a steal that set up Jeff Adkins' basket.
"You play defense like that, you just aren't going to lose," Adkins said. "What did they shoot, six for 22? That's probably as good a half defensively as we've had for a long time. Fifteen points is a low number."
The Terps also controlled the boards (40-30) against one of the few teams they will play that is smaller on the front line than they are.
All the Maryland players admitted they were surprised that Tennessee, known for playing tough defense and never giving up, rolled over so quickly.
As for the Terrapins, a trip that had the potential to turn into a disaster ended with them satisfied. Driesell's biggest problem today was keeping his happy team's celebration from getting so loud it would disturb Illinois, one thin locker room wall away getting ready to play.
Why were the players so happy? "Maybe," Bias said, with a grin, "This means steak from now on."