COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams wanted to soak it all in. He leaned against a wall, his shirt drenched with sweat, and let the moment wash over him.
Something had finally gone right. Something had gone very right. Something had gone so improbably, dramatically, gut-wrenchingly, agonizingly, head- spinningly right that Williams couldn't -- wouldn't -- let it go.
You don't beat North Carolina every day, after all. And you never beat North Carolina, or anyone else, by giving up a 22-point halftime lead and letting it come down to a Walt Williams tip-in with 1.3 seconds to play.
That's too much action. That's very nearly, but not quite, too much agony for the ecstasy.
"I'm never going to be in coaching so long that a game like this isn't special," Williams would say. "I know how hard these guys work. I know how much it means. I kept thinking that I couldn't stand for us to lose another one like this.
"At the end, it was a terrible feeling and then it was a great feeling and then. . . . "
This is vintage Gary Williams. He is not the kind to take a game like this in stride. He was never once tempted to lapse into coach-speak about this being a win like any other win. He enjoyed it in his style, which is to say fiercely. To let you know about Williams: He is even competitively joyful.
And why not? His Terps, last in the league, serving out a probation of someone else's doing, had beaten North Carolina. He had beaten Dean Smith. Forget that Carolina has now lost four in a row for the first time since 1965. This is still 10th-ranked North Carolina. This is still Dean Smith, outranked only by the angels.
It was that good and that exciting, and the people who rushed the Terps after the game -- actually, they rushed the floor, only to have the refs put 1.3 seconds back on the clock, giving Carolina a final chance -- still held Williams hostage.
"I think we got mad," Williams said of the second half. "I know I got mad, not at the players, but at the situation."
He was mad that it might slip away again, just as it had against Duke and Georgia Tech. He was mad that his players, who had struggled through a season in which there are so few rewards allowed them, might lose this one, too.
It nearly happened. As poorly as North Carolina played in the first half, that's how well it played in the second. Maryland's lead was down to two with 33 seconds left when Walt Williams turned the ball over. With 18.5 seconds, Hubert Davis launched a shot and was fouled.
"The ball couldn't go in," Gary Williams said of the shot. "The way it hit [on the back of the rim], it couldn't go in. Then it bounces again, and it goes in and I'm wondering when we're ever going to get a break. Then he shoots the free throw, and I think that's coming out."
It goes in, and Maryland is down, and a good North Carolina team, now brimming with confidence, has the lead.
"I had made a vow," said Evers Burns, "midway through the second half, when they were starting to catch up, that I would tear my head off before I'd let us lose this game."
Burns is one of Maryland's basic overachievers, who scored 22 yesterday and was prepared to tear his own head off if it meant not losing. Maryland has Vince Broadnax, a walk-on, and Kevin ** McLinton, who isn't supposed to be this good, and Chris Kerwin improbably blocking Eric Montross' shots, and it has Walt
Williams didn't let the Terps lose.
Burns, amid the partying, described the winning sequence when Maryland, down by one, went for the victory.
"I had a good shot," he said. "I thought it was in, but when it bounced long, it bounced right back to me. I tipped it to Chris [Kerwin], and then Walt stole the ball from him. Walt missed the shot. I don't know if he was trying to pump up his stats with another offensive rebound or whether he was just trying to scare everyone, but then he tipped it in and everybody came out on the court.
"I don't know who Walt was trying to scare, but he sure scared me."
Williams said he was trying to make the shot, but did allow that he stole the ball from Kerwin. Walt Williams wanted the last shot. Usually, he's on the bench at the end after fouling out. He leads the ACC in scoring and in dumb fouls. This time, he played 37 minutes, made only three fouls and tipped in his own miss to get to be a hero.
"It's not just one game," said Walt Williams. "It's bigger than that."
It's a great moment. It doesn't define a program. It's not a building block. But it's something that the people who were there can remember a season by.