Maryland went from disgrace to near victory to disappointment today, and the result of all that high emotion was a 68-67 Atlantic Coast Conference loss to Georgia Tech that easily could have been otherwise.
The things that could keep the Terrapins up tonight: that they trailed by as much as 21 in the first half; that they were outrebounded, 20-5, and shot just 42 percent from the floor to trail, 43-27, at halftime; and that Mark Price's deadeye 18-foot jumper with 22 seconds left never made a sound as it gave the Yellow Jackets (14-1, 3-0 in the ACC) the victory.
But all things considered, the Terrapins (10-4, 0-2 in ACC) had some things to be happy about. Among them: that they led the fifth-ranked team in the country by one point with 44 seconds remaining, and that Keith Gatlin's 15-foot jumper with three seconds left could have gone in. Instead, it bounced off the rim.
"The game did us a lot of good," Maryland Coach Charles G. Driesell said. "We let them get started too well and had to dig ourselves out of a hole. We found out we could play with them. We gave them everything they wanted on their home court. That last shot was on the money -- it looked good."
There were a couple of other positive points for the Terrapins. They switched from a variety of combination defenses to a straight 2-1-2 zone in the second half to effectively shut down Georgia Tech's big, high-powered offense. Len Bias, held to four points in the first half, came back to finish with a game-high 26. Derrick Lewis managed 16 points. And Terry Long earned a starting position at center by rallying the Terrapins from their 21-point deficit with 11 points and four rebounds.
"I must have done a lousy job at halftime," said Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins. "We just had trouble running the offense."
In the first half, Georgia Tech overwhelmed the Terrapins in every way. Duane Ferrell's crashing slam dunk with 6:26 left gave the Yellow Jackets their 21-point margin at 33-12 with 6:06 left in the period.
Not that the Yellow Jackets were stopped cold in the second half. Price finished the game with 24 points and 7-foot John Salley and Dalrymple had 13 each. But Dalrymple had just a free throw in the second half and Ferrell went scoreless.
Maryland scored the first six points of the second half, then went on a 14-4 run to close the gap. When Bias hit two free throws with 44 seconds remaining, Maryland took its only lead of the afternoon, 67-66, and Alexander Memorial Coliseum became quiet.
But with 24 seconds left, Dalrymple penetrated the middle, went up to shoot, then fed an open Price instead. He took the jumper with ease just inside the top of the key.
"It was either me or Mark," Dalrymple said. "Percentagewise, I'd rather go to Mark. I saw him at the last second. I stayed in the air, everyone sucked in to me, and there he was."
Maryland brought the ball down court and took a timeout with 12 seconds remaining. The inbounds play was designed to go to Bias, who would try to get inside and at least draw a foul. He took the pass, but he was trapped by Salley and fed the ball across to Gatlin.
Gatlin, who finished with 12 points and five assists as a substitute, shook Price to get open on the right side of the court and let go what looked like a good shot from 15 feet. But the jumper bounced off the far side of the rim and freshman forward Tom Hammonds came down with the rebound as the buzzer sounded.
"Oh God, it felt great," Gatlin said. "I thought it was in. I wasn't trying to steal any heroics from Len or anything, I just saw him trapped and took the shot. It was just one of those things."
Of Maryland's first six points of the second half, four were from Bias, on two free throws and a fast-break layin, to close the 16-point halftime deficit to 43-33. Georgia Tech opened it up to 14 again, but Maryland then went on a 14-5 tear, Bias scoring six.
Bias' 10-foot jumper in the lane over Salley made it a six-point game at 53-47 with 11:13 left, and the Terrapins chipped away from there. Maryland finally made it a one-point game on Bias' 12-foot jumper from the right side with 2:01 left. With 44 seconds left, Bias' jumper was short, but he drew a foul from Salley and made both free throws for the lead.
"We were very lucky," Cremins said. "Maryland was in a great position to win. I'm disappointed that we broke down like that in the second half."
Maryland was in obvious trouble from the outset. Georgia Tech not only outrebounded the Terrapins by 20-5 in the first half, but held them to one defensive rebound.
Maryland used three different centers in an attempt to stop the rebounding problems.
First, Driesell started 6-6 forward Tom (Speedy) Jones in place of freshman Tony Massenburg, but he was ineffectual and finished the game with no points and one rebound. Then came the 6-8 Massenburg, who was also overwhelmed in his brief appearance. Finally in came Long, the 6-8 junior built like a truck who had just been activated after spending one game ineligible for an incompleted course.
Long had immediate effect. He came in with 6:18 remaining and scored seven points, including one three-point play, before halftime to start the Terrapins' comeback. Long will be back in the lineup against No. 1-ranked North Carolina Tuesday night at Cole Field House. So, probably, will Gatlin, who was benched for his second straight game in favor of Jeff Baxter.
"I think we proved something," Long said. "We're waking up some teams. I don't care about starting. If I can play like I did today, I'll come off the bench every time."