COLLEGE PARK -- Those who came to watch the University of Maryland play Lafayette College yesterday had likely finished their Christmas shopping. And those who didn't probably found more excitement waiting in those long, last-minute lines.
It was a sloppy afternoon of basketball at Cole Field House, in execution and atmosphere. As time was thankfully running down on a 64-48 victory for the Terrapins, it was left to Leopards coach John Leone to sum things up.
"What is this, a circus or a basketball game?" Leone asked the officials.
With an announced crowd of 5,277 looking on, Maryland (4-3) sloshed through and hardly looked like a team getting ready for real competition in this week's ECAC Holiday Festival or next week's Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Wake Forest.
"It was a tough game for us; Lafayette's style makes it tough [because] we don't see that style of play that often," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team looked as if it hadn't played during the 11-day exam break. "It doesn't allow us to do what we're good at."
Exactly what the Terps are good at hasn't been determined this season. Despite a significant height advantage -- Lafayette didn't have a player taller than 6 feet 7 -- Maryland had trouble getting the ball inside and its frontcourt starters were outscored, 18-0, in the first half and by 22-13 for the game.
Fortunately, senior guard Matt Roe decided to break out of a recent scoring slump, finishing with a game-high 26 points. Roe also helped offset the fact that the frontcourt was out-rebounded, 21-19, by grabbing a game-high nine rebounds.
"I talked to Coach Williams, and he told me that if I missed my first 10 shots to keep shooting," said Roe, who made his first two shots, both three-pointers, and ended up eight of 15 (three of nine on three-pointers) from the field. "That gave me a lot of confidence. I'm hoping that I can use this game to build on."
For those who watched it, yesterday's game should be left under the tree. Lafayette (2-5) shot 16 of 46 from the field and 12 of 20 from the free-throw line. Maryland wasn't much better, going 20 of 48 and 20 of 35. There might have been a reason for the bricklaying, though.
With a little less than five minutes gone in the second half, Leone noticed that the rim his team was shooting at was a bit off-kilter. So the basket was lowered to the ground, adjustments were made, and the game continued after a 10-minute break during which a guy dressed as Santa Claus was introduced to the crowd. It was that kind of afternoon.
"The rim was a little low and off to one side," Roe said. "When you start missing shots, it has a domino effect."
It took a couple of missed shots by Lafayette for Maryland to finally break away. With the Terps leading, 48-41, with 4 1/2 minutes left, Leopards center Jeff Antolick missed a wide-open jumper in the lane. Then, after a turnover by Walt Williams, Lafayette guard Bruce Stankavage blew by Vince Broadnax on the baseline, only to blow the layup as well. Maryland scored the next six points, five by Roe, to open a 55-41 lead.
"They wore us down in the second half," Leone said. "Nothing we took was easy. Even when we thought we had an open outside shot, suddenly things closed on us. But I thought we persisted."
The most interesting aspect of the game for Maryland -- aside from the crooked basket and Mr. Claus -- was that it played much of the second half without a point guard. Walt Williams (10 points) played only three minutes in the second half because of fouls. Kevin McLinton was poked in the right eye early in the half and his vision was blurred. Cougar Downing had a sprained ankle.
"I thought we did a pretty good job in the second half, even though we were without a point guard," Gary Williams said.
Or without many fans. Whoever counted the crowd was certainly in the holiday spirit -- extremely giving -- and those who did show up could have mistaken Cole Field House for the campus library. Gary Williams, who has gone out of his way to praise the fans in his two years, didn't mince words.
"When I went around the state last summer, everybody asked me how they could help the program," he said. "They could help by showing up on a Saturday afternoon [against Lafayette] and not waiting for North Carolina and Duke."
Or Christmas, for that matter.
NOTES: Cedric Lewis, who is third in the nation in blocked shots, had 5 against the Leopards. Walk-on G Mike Thibeault, a freshman from Glen Burnie, scored his first point at Maryland on a second-half free throw.