COLLEGE PARK -- If you listened to Gary Williams, the difference between Maryland and Georgia Tech yesterday was measured as much on the game clock as on the scoreboard at Cole Field House.
If you listened to the beleaguered and bewildered Terrapins coach, the difference between a 67-65 nationally televised defeat to the 24th-ranked Yellow Jackets and a possible overtime was not only two points, but also two-tenths of a second.
That was all it took for Jon Barry to throw an inbounds pass to James Forrest, who caught the ball in midair and hit a 10-foot shot to send Georgia Tech storming off the floor in celebration and Williams steaming to the dressing room in exasperation.
"I'd just like to get a break somewhere," said Williams, who thought time should have run out after Walt Williams blocked Forrest with 2.8 seconds left and the ball went out of bounds off Maryland's Chris Kerwin. "The ball out of bounds, two-tenths of a second, at home. This is the only home court in the country where there'd be two-tenths of a second left."
An athletic department spokesman wouldn't identify the timekeeper, but said that the person is hired by the university on a seasonal basis.
Painfully honest timekeepers aside, Maryland (9-11, 2-8) had a chance earlier to go ahead. Unable to get the ball to Walt Williams, as had been the case most of the second half, Kevin McLinton missed a running 8-foot jumper with 45.2 seconds to go and the score tied at 65.
After calling two timeouts, the second after Williams' block of a 10-foot turnaround by Forrest, Georgia Tech (16-7, 4-5) set up its inbounds play. It was one that Bobby Cremins had swiped from Virginia after the Cavaliers had used it to beat the Yellow Jackets in the opening round of the 1987 ACC tournament.
"I just looked off James, and Walt went for the fake," said Barry. "He [Williams] was expecting Malcolm [Mackey] to throw a back screen. When I looked back at James, he was wide-open."
Said Walt Williams: "They caught me when I wasn't looking. By the time I saw the ball, it was too late."
It was a frustrating end to a forgettable afternoon for Williams. After seven straight games scoring 30 points or more -- one short of the league record -- the 6-foot-8 senior came back to reality about as hard as he fell to the floor at one point in the second half.
Williams finished with 21 points and five rebounds, but missed 12 of 18 shots from the field, including six of seven from three-point range. After hitting his first shot, a three-pointer, Williams made only layups, dunks and free throws (eight of 10) the rest of the game.
"Walt Williams is a great basketball player," said Cremins. "Fortunately, he showed his human side."
And, make no mistake, Williams erred yesterday. Among his seven turnovers was a sloppy behind-the-back pass on a two-on-one fastbreak with McLinton open, a little more than two minutes left and the score tied at 63.
"When I brought it behind my back, it slipped off my fingers," said Williams. "I wish I could have taken that back."
The same could be said about his fourth foul. It came with a little more than nine minutes left, when Williams tried to block Forrest's 17-foot jumper. Though he got a piece of the ball, he was also ruled to have done the same to Forrest's arm.
Maryland did a great job to hang in there during the 2:10 Williams was on the bench, and shortly after his return, built its lead to 60-53 with 5:13 remaining. But as has happened a number of times this season, the Terps couldn't hold their lead.
"I really respect this team an awful lot," Gary Williams said of the Terps. "We played some good basketball the last seven or eight games. It was nice to get the Florida State game. I know the players thought we could win this game, they played like it and we had several chances to put it away."
A 10-1 run put the Yellow Jackets ahead 63-61, and the game seesawed into the final, frantic seconds. It came down to two plays involving Williams and Forrest. After Williams got the best of Forrest, the 6-7 freshman hit what might have been the biggest shot of Georgia Tech's roller-coaster season.
"Jon did a great job of getting me the ball," said Forrest, who finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. "It felt good to hit that shot."
Said Cremins, whose team broke a four-game ACC losing streak: "It was a great win. I feel very fortunate."
NOTES: Evers Burns played a solid game for Maryland, scoring 13, pulling down 11 rebounds and holding Mackey to a season-low six. . . . Georgia Tech blocked 10 shots. . . . The Terps play Thursday night at home against North Carolina State.