The next sound you read will be an approximation of Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell's reaction to yesterday's 72-60 loss to Georgia Tech: "Aaaaaaaaaargh!"
Driesell's frustration, written so clearly across his face as he stomped from the Cole Field House floor, is understandable. Just when he thought his team was rolling and perhaps ready to take control of the Atlantic Coast Conference race, it ran into his nemesis of the '80s, Coach Bobby Cremins and his Yellow Jackets.
Last month in Hawaii, Tech beat Maryland, 70-69, on a layup by Mark Price with three seconds left. Yesterday, playing in a building where Maryland had won 16 straight games over two seasons, it was supposed to be different.
Instead, even with most of the crowd of 14,500 trying to urge the 17th-ranked Terrapins (17-6 overall, 4-2 in the conference) into the game, eighth-ranked Tech (16-4, 5-3) produced a performance that was not terribly far from perfect.
The Yellow Jackets burst to a 37-26 lead by scoring the last seven points of the first half and never let Maryland get closer than six in the second half. They got a remarkable 20-point, seven-rebound performance from center Yvon Joseph; they got 16 points from Price and 14 each from John Salley and Bruce Dalrymple.
They played superb defense in building the lead, often surrounding Len Bias (14 points on four-of-11 shooting) with three men in the low post. When the Terrapins, behind Adrian Branch (20 points), tried desperately to make their run in the second half, Tech executed on offense superbly, scoring on seven straight possessions during a period of almost seven minutes.
"We played one of the finest basketball games that we've played in a long time, from top to bottom," said Cremins, who is 7-2 against Driesell since coming to Georgia Tech four years ago. "It's amazing. The difference today was the big men, Joseph and Salley. Just look at the stats."
Driesell could not have agreed more. "They just jammed it inside on us and kicked our butt. We probably lost the game in the last minute of the first half, when we turned the ball over twice and let Joseph pick a rebound up off the floor and get a three-point play. That should never happen."
The final 90 seconds of the half must have been gruesome for him to watch. Trailing, 30-26, the Terrapins had a chance to cut the lead to two after Price (who missed nine of 13 shots) missed badly with two minutes left. Maryland set up its offense and Branch promptly committed one of his six turnovers, moving while setting a pick.
Price converted that offensive foul into two points at the line. Then, after another turnover, Joseph made the aforementioned three-point play, rebounding Price's miss with 25 seconds left, putting it back and getting fouled.
That made it 35-26, and the Terrapins set up for the last shot. This time, Dalrymple (seven rebounds and three steals in the half) stole the ball from Keith Gatlin, and spun and weaved his way to the basket, laying the ball in with one second left. Driesell paused to stomp angrily as he left the court.
"They did a good job in their half-court defense," Gatlin said. "They were patient and we weren't. They hurt us on the boards, they got the ball inside, they did it all. They were almost perfect."
Cremins made a pregame decision that Bias was going to have to fight for his shots or give up the ball. Every time the ball went into the low post, Bias found Joseph planted behind him, waving his long arms. He found Salley (6-11) or Duane Ferrell (6-6) in the lane denying him the big first step that way. He found Price dropping down from his point guard spot to slap at the ball if he tried to put it on the floor.
"I didn't have a lot of places to go," Bias said. "I tried to go outside for a while but my shot wasn't going from there. Inside, they usually had three guys waiting for me."
The man most often left open by Georgia Tech was Speedy Jones, who has been a steady contributor when Bias is double- and triple-teamed. Yesterday, Jones looked paralyzed. He took two shots early and did not shoot again.
"I just froze," he said, sitting with a towel over his head.
To try to unfreeze his team, Driesell started Jeff Adkins over Gatlin the second half. That move had worked in the comeback against Duke. Not this time. Adkins was one of five from the field in 25 minutes.
When the Terrapins finally did get going, they were trailing by 45-30. Baskets by Branch, Lewis and Adkins cut the lead to 45-36 with 11:05 to go and the crowd finally began rocking. Tech never let it get rolling.
For seven minutes, the Yellow Jackets used the 45-second clock to near perfection, working the ball inside and out. Each time Maryland scored, Tech answered.
"We knew that for an entire game, Bias and Branch are basically unstoppable," said Cremins. "We were not going to stop them at that point. The only way for us to win was to keep scoring at the other end."
They did. After Adkins' basket, Joseph hit from inside to make it 47-36 with 10:37 to go. That began a basket-trading sequence that did not end until Salley missed a jumper with 4:33 left. When Branch hit an 18-footer 13 seconds later to make it 60-52, that was as close as Maryland had been since the first half.
Tech did not blink, though. The poorest free throw shooting team in the ACC (66 percent) made 18 of 18, eight of eight down the stretch.
The Yellow Jackets were aided by some strange fouling tactics by Maryland. After cutting the lead to 66-60 on two foul shots by Gatlin with 1:36 left, the Terrapins stared at Salley, a 55 percent foul shooter, as he stood under the basket with the ball. Salley passed to Dalrymple (70 percent foul shooter) who was fouled trying a layup and made both for a 68-60 lead. A moment later, after a miss by Gatlin, Price (78 percent) was fouled and his two shots with 59 seconds to go removed the last shred of suspense.
"We wanted to prove that we could come in here and beat Maryland on its home court," Price said. "I think we did that."
They certainly did. But Tech has beaten Maryland in gyms from here to Atlanta to Hawaii the last four seasons.
"I don't know what it is. Whenever we play them, Joseph just plays great," said Driesell, who was nosed out by Cremins for the 27-year-old Haitian three years ago. "If he played against us every night, he'd be the No. 1 draft pick in the nation."