Make no mistake, the preliminaries are over. In this part of the country, there is basketball and then there is ACC basketball.
It was Keith Gatlin who hit the winning shot in steamy Cole Field House last night. His pump-and-duck jumper in the lane with one minute to go put Maryland ahead, 57-56. But his shot was only one twist in Maryland's scintillating 58-56 victory over N.C. State before 14,500 who love this time of year.
In one locker room, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said how pleased he is to be 1-0 in league play and 11-2 overall. Gatlin calmly explained that he really wanted to get the ball to Len Bias (17 points) when he made his winning shot and Bias joked about the return of his jump shot, missing in action in Hawaii.
Across the hall, State Coach Jim Valvano raved. It wasn't Terry Gannon's missed jumper with two seconds left that bothered him so much or even the memory of Nate McMillan buying Gatlin's head fake on the winning bucket. It was two calls by the officials, two charging calls on his team in the last 1:40 that were making him crazy.
"I just can't stand it when you play 39 minutes like that and then the game isn't decided by the kids because the referees make two (bad) calls," he said. "We missed the last shot; we made a mistake defensively; I can live with that. Your kids make mistakes, you go home and deal with it.
"But the game was played one way for 39 minutes and then bang, in the last minute they call two charges. Maybe I'm nuts. If I look at the film and I'm wrong, I'll apologize, but right now I'm shocked and disappointed."
He is also 0-2 in the league (7-3 overall) despite a superb performance by sophomore Russell Pierre -- 17 points, 12 rebounds -- and solid games from Lorenzo Charles (12 points with two men on him all night) and tiny Anthony (Spud) Webb (eight points, five assists).
Valvano's team played without 6-11 freshman Chris Washburn, who is suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of his trial on burglary charges. But it rebounded well offensively and made Maryland play a half court game.
"We just didn't do a good job boxing out the first half," said Gatlin. "They're a big team and they controlled the boards."
After the Terrapins had gone ahead, 16-8, the game slowed to a crawl as State went ahead, 27-20. Then the teams settled into a seesaw struggle in which the lead changed 19 times in the last 23 minutes.
"It's just something about these ACC games," said Bias, who played the last 7:22 with four fouls. "The other games are intense but these games are different. The crowd gets so psyched that you do, too."
The intensity creates mistakes: the teams totaled 31 turnovers.
In the end, after State had outscored Maryland, 17-2, on the offensive boards in the first half; after Branch had fouled out with 3:16 to go on a charge after scoring 16 points; and after State had come back from a 55-52 deficit to lead 56-55 on Charles' two jumpers, the game came down to the last five possessions.
On the first, State, leading by one with under two minutes to go, spread its offense and worked the 45-second clock under 10. McMillan started a drive from the left, got into the lane and dished to Cozell McQueen on the base line. But as McQueen went up looking to dunk, McMillan was called for charging Bias. McMillan claimed innocence: "He came up on me and fell down."
Down came the Terrapins with 1:40 left. They wanted to go to Bias. He posted low in the lane.
"I wanted to go to Len but there was no way," Gatlin said. "I saw the shot clock at nine so I had to make a move. I just faked, went under the guy (McMillan) and shot."
"When he shot, I felt good because he makes that move in practice," Bias said. "The guy bit for the fake. It wasn't a prayer, just a good shot."
That came with 1:00 left. State called time. The ball went to Pierre in the middle and he went up on Speedy Jones. The shot went in but official Paul Houseman called another charge and disallowed the basket.
"There was contact but the ball was out of my hand when the whistle blew," Pierre said. "I should have gotten the two points."
"We teach our kids to go up that way," Valvano said. "When the whistle blew I thought we were going to shoot a foul shot, too. At the very least we get the gentleman's call, the basket counts and they shoot at the other end."
They got nothing, though, and Maryland had the ball with 41 seconds left. With 26 seconds to go, State fouled Gatlin. He made the first, but missed the second and it was 58-56. State had one last shot.
Valvano inserted Gannon, his best outside shooter. Driesell, burned by a last-second layup against Georgia Tech playing man to man, went to a one-three-one zone. State moved the ball around the perimeter until finally Webb penetrated, got trapped and kicked the ball back to Gannon.
"When Spud made the move and dished the ball to me, my eyes lit up," Gannon said. "I thought I was going to put it into overtime."
But before Gannon could square up, Jeff Adkins jumped at him, hands waving and Gannon had to pull back to shoot. It caromed off the front rim and fell as time ran out.
"I never thought we'd be this good," Driesell said. "I still can't believe it," Valvano said, walking off into the night.