The Maryland basketball team was killing time yesterday during a layover in the Atlanta airport en route home from Birmingham from its 59-56 victory Saturday night over Alabama. Halfway up the concourse at one of the gift shops, a man was tossing a tiny model airplane that circled and returned to his waiting hands.

Len Bias, the Terrapins' leading scorer, tried the trick. He couldn't quite master it. Coach Lefty Driesell tried next and this time the plane dove straight into the carpet. Nonplussed, Driesell looked at freshman Derrick Lewis, standing a few feet away suppressing a smile.

"Can you do this, Derrick?" Driesell asked.

"No, I don't think so," Lewis answered. Then he brightened. "But I could block it."

It is fast becoming apparent to everyone who has watched Maryland's 5-1 start that Lewis, who is just 6 feet 7, can block almost anything. He has blocked 27 shots, an average of 4.5 a game. That's the official total. Driesell swears that Lewis blocked nine shots against Tennessee, a game in which he was officially credited with three.

Saturday night, in the Terrapins' impressive victory in Birmingham, Lewis blocked only two shots. But his defense against Crimson Tide center Bobby Lee Hurt was the major difference in the game.

"Derrick may be the best shot blocker I've ever coached," Driesell said yesterday. "His positioning is always good and he really likes blocking shots. He enjoys playing defense, which is unusual in a young player."

Lewis also plays intelligent defense. Maryland's basic plan was to have its outside defenders drop off Alabama's guards while its inside defenders tried to push Hurt and Buck Johnson out, thus sandwiching the Crimson Tide's two leading scorers.

But on the game's first possession, Lewis realized he had a problem. "He (Hurt) came down set up and I tried to push him out," Lewis said. "But when you're 190 (pounds) and you're trying to push out 240, it can be a long night."

So Lewis adjusted. He moved to Hurt's side, denying him the entry pass most of the game. A couple of times when Alabama tried to lob to Hurt, Lewis received help from the weak side and the ball never got to Hurt. In fact, both of Hurt's field goals in a four-point night came on rebounds of missed shots.

"My God, he's good," teammate Adrian Branch said of Lewis after the game. "He makes the whole team better defensively."

Maryland's defense is winning games right now. The Terrapins are shooting just 46 percent as a team -- 36 percent Saturday -- and they are consistently being outrebounded. But their opponents are shooting only 40 percent and the Terrapins are creating fast breaks with blocked shots and steals.

Tuesday, the Terrapins face another good team when Ohio State (3-0) comes to Cole Field House. The Buckeyes have a 7-1 center, transfer Brad Sellers (formerly of Wisconsin), and are experienced. They beat Maryland last season, 72-68, at the Meadowlands.

Driesell's record against the Big Ten since coming to Maryland is 0-4. The Terrapins lost to Ohio State in the 1979 NIT, to Indiana in the 1981 NCAA tournament, to Ohio State last season and to Illinois in the 1984 NCAA tournament.

During Georgetown's destruction of Nevada-Las Vegas on national television Saturday, Gary Bender of CBS said, "Anyone who doesn't vote Georgetown No. 1 this week ought to be investigated." Bender is right. The Hoyas might have beaten four stiffs prior to UNLV but Saturday they humiliated a team filled with good athletes.

North Carolina embarrassed Oral Roberts, 87-65, Saturday with center Brad Daugherty, who has played superbly in the Tar Heels' 4-0 start, scoring 17 points and getting 10 rebounds.

Danny Ferry, DeMatha's 6-10 high school all-America, has let all the coaches recruiting him know that he has narrowed his choices to two: Duke and North Carolina.

Asked yesterday if he was still trying to lure Ferry, Driesell, who is so dogged he probably still thinks he might eventually get Moses Malone, said, "You're daggone right we are."

George Washington, American and Navy returned from weekend tournaments with mixed emotions. All three lost opening games, then bounced back to win consolations.

GW (4-1) was beaten in the Kactus Klassic by an underrated Xavier (Ohio) team, denying it a shot at Arizona State. The Colonials still have dates with Michigan State and Kansas before the end of the month.

American (2-3) beat Columbia Saturday but now gets Georgetown Wednesday. Welcome home, Eagles.

Navy (4-2) had the best shot at winning, losing by three to host Southern Illinois Friday in the Saluki Shootout. The Midshipmen are now off until Jan. 2.

Remember the name Cedric Henderson? He was the 6-9 forward who last year committed to one major school, signed with another, and finally landed at Georgia. Henderson is eligible for his first college game Tuesday against Georgia Tech.

Coach Hugh Durham put him through a personal two-hour workout Saturday (the first day he was eligible to practice) to get him ready for No. 15 Tech. In the meantime, the NCAA is investigating Georgia for its recruitment of Henderson. Durham has denied that there will be any major sanctions against the school.

Since last week's upset pick (Oral Roberts) did so well, here's another: St. Bonaventure to beat Syracuse on Wednesday in Olean, N.Y.