Maryland played 16 minutes of truly terrible basketball today, committing enough turnovers (16), personal fouls (26) and bad shots to give the calmest college coach a case of apoplexy.
Despite that, the Terrapins lost to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas by only 78-76. Except for a few rushed shots and one overthrown pass with six seconds remaining in the game, they could have beaten the Runnin' Rebels, who led late in the second half by 12 points.
For all of that, Coach Lefty Driesell was grateful.
"A couple of breaks here and there and we would have won it," said Driesell, whose Terrapins (13-5) began the first half against UNLV as if they had glitter in their eyes. The second half started much worse.
"We played awful in the beginning of the second half," said Driesell, who watched his team drop from a 38-38 halftime tie to a 59-49 deficit in 10 minutes. During that time, Maryland missed eight of 10 field goal attempts.
"We were rushing our shots. We should have slowed it down," said Maryland's Len Bias, who finished with 20 points on six-of-14 field goal shooting. "I missed a few that I usually make."
Maryland's court misery was not totally its own doing. The Rebels (12-2), who have won 11 straight since a 36-point loss to Georgetown on Dec. 8, are famous for a run-and-gun offensive game. And today they sprang a man-to-man pressure defense on Maryland that frustrated players into misdirected passes and off-balance shots.
"They were overplaying on defense and we got anxious," said Keith Gatlin, who pulled Maryland to 77-76 with 34 seconds remaining by scoring three baskets within a 67-second span.
With UNLV ahead by one point, Fred Banks drove the length of the court and fed a pass to center Richie Adams under the basket. His shot was blocked by Gatlin, who was charged with a foul. Adams made the first shot and missed the second to make it 78-76.
Maryland's Speedy Jones got the rebound with eight seconds remaining and tossed an outlet pass to Jeff Baxter, who drove to half court, then overthrew a pass to Branch. The ball sailed off Branch's outstretched fingertips out of bounds. The Rebels ran out the clock.
"I should have taken the shot myself," said Baxter. "But I was trying to get it to Adrian, the player who's been doing it for us all year."
After the game, UNLV players admitted they were looking to redeem themselves after losing so badly to Georgetown.
"This was our first chance to redeem ourselves nationally," said Armon (Hammer) Gilliam, a 6-foot-8 forward who scored 10 points and got seven rebounds. "I think everybody was up for this game."
At the start of the first half, the Maryland team looked like it had spent the night on the Vegas strip. The Terrapins missed 10 of their first 12 shots and threw the ball away like it burned their hands.
UNLV, behind the inspired play of Georgetown transfer Anthony Jones, who fouled out after scoring eight points and getting nine rebounds, took a 5-0 lead and looked capable of tripling it. A tight man-to-man defense had Maryland forcing passes and trying to shoot while double- and triple-teamed.
But Maryland's own defense, led by Gatlin out front and Bias underneath, put the squeeze on UNLV, which also began misfiring.
With 10 minutes gone in the half, Maryland had climbed back to trail by just 20-17.
Both teams began working the ball underneath. Maryland's Derrick Lewis took advantage of offensive rebounds to score 12 in the first half. UNLV's Adams, a 6-8 senior, was fed lob passes under the basket for most of his 10 first-half points.
UNLV's defense seemed to upset Maryland with its constant switching tactics. Jones began covering Branch, then switched to Bias and the next time down the court to Branch again. Jones played in front of both men, denying them the ball.
"This game was a lot better for us than playing somebody we could beat at home," Driesell said. "I think it's going to make us a better ball club down at the end of the season."