The champagne might be warm by the time Lefty Driesell gets his 500th college victory. Certainly, it will not taste nearly as sweet as it would have last night.
Now, it will be at Clemson Sunday, or at Georgia Tech or, even here against Towson State that Driesell gets collegiate victory No. 500. It should have happened last night. It should have happened before 14,500 at Cole Field House. It should have happened against North Carolina and career-long rival Dean Smith, now 30-8 against Driesell.
Instead, it was just another night of torment. Smith and North Carolina made the big plays down the stretch and Driesell and Maryland could do nothing right when it mattered. The result was a 60-54 Tar Heels victory that left a frustrated Driesell snapping at people and saying, "I don't care about 500. Please, please don't ask me about that any more."
The loss drops Maryland to 19-8, 5-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Carolina (19-5, 6-3) is in sole possession of second place in the league, one-half game behind Georgia Tech.
"We were very aware of the fact that Lefty was going for 500," North Carolina's Buzz Peterson said. "Coming in here and winning is always sweet because this crowd is so loud. Tonight, though, was extra special. Lefty will get his 500th; it's just a matter of when."
Whenever he gets it, Driesell still will remember the two timeouts he called during the second half last night. The first one helped get his team back into the game. The second one, with his team ahead by one and with momentum, might have cost him the game.
The sequence began with 13:04 to play. North Carolina had just taken a 45-38 lead on a tip-in by Brad Daugherty, the game's high scorer with 21 points. Driesell called time to counsel patience to his overeager team.
The Terrapins had led, 28-18, after 13 minutes before going into a deep freeze, hitting two of 15 shots to turn that lead into a 38-32 deficit three minutes into the second half.
Len Bias, after hitting four of his first six shots, was one for five during that period and ended six of 16 for 15 points; Adrian Branch, three for four at the start, was zero for four and ended the game five for 12 (11 points).
In short, the Terrapins were terrible for the last seven minutes of the first half and the first seven minutes of the second.
They were destroyed on the boards all night, getting outrebounded, 41-26. Driesell talked later about Carolina's four players who are 6 feet 10 or taller. But the game's leading rebounder was 6-3 guard Steve Hale, who had 12 -- read that number, 12 -- rebounds.
"We just lost our poise when we got the big lead," Branch said. "Right then, we had the chance to just take them out of the game. Instead, we took bad shots, made mistakes and let them get right back in the game. It shouldn't happen, there's no excuse for it. But it did. I wish I knew why."
Once it had happened, though, Maryland still was in the game because Carolina was shooting poorly. For the night, both teams shot 42 percent in a building so hot it was better suited for a sauna than a basketball game.
When UNC's lead got to seven, Driesell decided to calm things down a little. The timeout worked. Speedy Jones (10 points) hit a jumper and Branch came up with a three-point play. That reduced the lead to 45-43. Carolina inched back to a 49-45 margin on a drive by Curtis Hunter with 9:20 to go but then the Terrapins turned terrific.
Keith Gatlin found Bias soaring for an alley-oop dunk on which he was fouled. The free throw made it 49-48. Hunter tried to drive the middle, but Bias blocked the shot and Gatlin got the loose ball, went the length of the floor and popped in a 10-footer.
That made it 50-49, it gave the Terrapins their first lead of the second half with 8:07 to play and it sent the frenzied crowd into ecstasy. When Kenny Smith missed a jumper and Gatlin rebounded, it was time for Maryland to take control. Carolina was reeling.
And then Driesell stood up, placed one hand on top of the other and asked for a timeout. Why?
"I wanted to make sure we took our time and got a good shot on that possession," he said. "So, the first thing we did was go out and Adkins took a bad shot. It was all downhill from there."
Adkins took a wide-open 15-footer from the corner. He was supposed to dump the ball inside to Bias but Hunter dropped off him and double-teamed Bias. "That wide open, it's just instinct for me to shoot," Adkins said. "I've been hitting that shot lately, I've been real confident. If it goes in, it's a great shot. Right now, I wish I had it back."
What would Adkins do if he had the ball back again? "I think you've got to take the shot," he said.
Rejuvenated by the timeout -- "We needed a chance to regroup and we got it, Daugherty said" -- and Adkins' miss, Carolina took control, as it has done so many times at the end in games between these teams.
Hale fed Warren Martin for a layup that made it 51-50 with 7:02 left. Maryland never got even again.
Branch missed at the other end, and, after a miss by North Carolina, Adkins missed the front end of a one-and-one. Daugherty made his two foul shots (UNC was 16 for 18 from the line) and then, for the third time in the half, the Tar Heels pressed after a foul shot.
And, for the third time in the half, Maryland turned over the ball. Bias' inbounds pass was stolen by Hale, and he made an 18-foot shot that made it 55-50 with 5:16 left. In the two minutes following the timeout, Maryland had missed two shots, one free throw and committed a turnover.
"They beat us because they're better than us right now," Driesell said. "They killed us on the boards, they're too big for us and they deserved it. Even after those mistakes, we still had a chance to win and we just didn't make any plays at the end."
After Hale's shot, Gatlin and Jones cut the lead to 55-54. After Daugherty's missed shot, the Terrapins had a chance to regain the lead. But Joe Wolf jumped in Bias' face as he released a 15-foot jumper and the shot fell way short. Hale rebounded and a moment later went to the basket for a three-point play that made it 58-54 with 2:40 left.
That, as it turned out, was the game. The Terrapins failed to score in the last 3:50. The final 2:40 was especially awful: Jones shot an air ball, Branch missed a one-and-one, Gatlin missed a jumper, Branch missed another jumper and Jones missed once more. The only time the Terrapins put the ball in the basket was Bias' post-buzzer dunk of disgust.
By then, the crowd was silently heading for the exits and Driesell was placidly congratulating Smith, an oft-repeated scene in this rivalry.
"There was a whole lot of talk about the 500th," Branch said. "We just didn't execute for Coach. I know this hurts him. I know he wanted it tonight."
That was apparent. When someone asked if he was disappointed not to get the milestone in this game, Driesell said angrily: "Disappointed? I ain't disappointed by that. I'm tired of hearing about 500 wins. What the hell are you talking about?"
And then, "It ain't no big deal. They've beaten us before and they'll beat us again. They just whipped us. All I'm worried about is Clemson and I hope I never hear about 500 again because right now I feel like a dog that ain't never won a single game. I ain't gonna get a raise for winning 500 or a new house or anything.
"It just ain't that big a deal."
Unfortunately for Driesell, it was that big a deal. At least.