Lefty Driesell has spring fever.
Moments after Maryland had gone through its usual late-game lurches yesterday before disposing of Wake Forest, 69-66, before 14,250 in Cole Field House, Driesell was moping and grousing.
"I guess the fact that we won is good," he said, "but we're still not protecting the lead the way we should, we're still missing free throws at the end of close games and we're not playing smart. I don't like to see us playing like this at this time of year."
The Terrapins have been playing like this all month. The victory raised their Atlantic Coast Conference record to 6-6 and their overall mark to 21-10. Wake Forest, which has lost five straight ACC games, is 4-8 in the league and 14-11 overall. If not for its two victories over the Deacons, Maryland would be zero for February in the conference, having lost its other five league games this month.
"But it's a win and we got running for a change," said point guard Keith Gatlin, who had a superb first half on his way to a 10-assist day. "It felt good to get some rebounds and get the ball out there on the break for a change."
The main rebounder was freshman Derrick Lewis (11 points), who broke out of a slump with 14 to key the Terrapins' 43-33 edge on the boards. Forward Len Bias had 10 rebounds despite a poor shooting day (four for 12) and only 13 points. Adrian Branch, playing his last game here, had 18 points to lead Maryland and Tom (Speedy) Jones had 15.
Despite all that, Wake Forest might well have won if Delaney Rudd, its best outside shooter, had not missed 16 of 20 shots from the floor. The Deacons got a brilliant game from forward Kenny Green -- 24 points -- and made life miserable at midcourt for Maryland all afternoon because of gnat-like Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues. The 5-foot-3 sophomore from Dunbar High School in Baltimore had four steals and seven assists.
"Every time you touch the ball, the first thing you do is look for him," Lewis said. "But he's so small, you can never find him."
Nevertheless, in the first 20 minutes the Terrapins looked like the team that was so impressive the first half of the season. With Gatlin getting eight of his assists -- his seventh broke John Lucas' school record of 179 in a season -- the Terrapins had a chance to blow Wake out of the sauna-like building.
But, as has been their wont all season, they didn't. In fact, their 40-33 lead at halftime could have been even less. With Maryland leading, 37-31, and holding for one shot, Branch took a foolish, off-balance shot with 14 seconds left.
But Bias got the rebound, made the basket and got fouled. That meant Charlie Thomas's basket at the buzzer only cut the lead to 40-33.
The Terrapins built the margin to 50-37 during the first nine minutes of the second half, Gatlin's 17-footer putting them up by 13 with 11:27 to go. Still, there was no putaway punch.
"It seems like when we get a lead like that we start thinking about protecting the ball instead of just running our offense," Lewis said.
Slowly but surely, the Deacons chipped away at the lead. They could have cut it to five with seven minutes left but, in a crucial sequence, Lee Garber botched a layup with the score 54-47. He then fouled Lewis on the rebound and Lewis made one foul shot to make it 55-47. When Lewis missed the second shot, Jones back-tapped and Lewis was fouled again. He made both shots this time and it was 57-47.
"Right there is where we should just take control and make it no ballgame," Branch said. "But we just can't seem to do it. We haven't all year."
Wake Forest kept chipping away, cutting the lead to 63-60 when Rudd, in one of his rare good moments, powered through the middle for a three-point play with 2:44 to go. The Deacons cut the lead to one after Branch, who has had trouble with late-game free throws, missed a one-and-one. Thomas followed a Bogues miss and with 1:50 left it was 63-62.
Now, Maryland had to score. The ball went inside and Bias tried to go up with it. But the ball rolled off his hands and went out of bounds -- or the ball was knocked out of his hands by Green as he fouled him. Referee Lenny Wirtz saw it Bias' way.
"I didn't think I fouled him," Green said. "I thought we were getting the ball."
Instead, Bias made two foul shots with 1:31 left and it was 65-62. Rudd missed again and Branch finally made a foul shot to make it 66-62. After he missed the second one, Wake Forest had one chance left. But Bogues missed at the other end and Jones sealed the victory with two foul shots that made it 68-62.
That left the losing coach, Carl Tacy, disappointed but satisfied. "I just can't find any fault with the effort of our team," he said. "Kenny Green's job against Bias in the second half was outstanding. Holding him to one field goal in 20 minutes is outstanding. But we have to have Delaney Rudd score to be successful and he was off his game today."
And, it left the winning coach, Driesell, grumbling. "Good teams don't let 13-point leads slip away," he said.
When someone asked if his team was perhaps tired after 31 games and needed some rest, Driesell's answer was quick: "We keep playing like this and we'll have plenty of time to rest in about two weeks."