'75 Terps came from nowhere in rise to elite

Last UM team to go so far was a `machine'

March 24, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

They had lost Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and Moses Malone, but ended up winning the hearts of Maryland basketball loyalists.

The last Terrapins team to reach the Elite Eight was one of conviction, a harmonious unit determined to prove its worth without the galaxy of stars, two of whom had graduated. The other, Malone, had bypassed college entirely to play as an 18-year-old in the American Basketball Association.

McMillen and Elmore - both All-Americans - had been the cornerstones of the 1974 Terps, to this day probably the most talented team in school history. Their careers ended in heartbreaking fashion the previous March at Greensboro Coliseum, where North Carolina State, with David Thompson and Tom Burleson, beat them for the third time that season in a 103-100 overtime thriller that ranks as one of the best collegiate games ever.

That defeat in the ACC tournament final knocked the Terps out of the NCAA picture at a time when inclusion was limited to the league champion. N.C. State went on to the national title; Maryland, a 23-5 team that was to be No. 4 nationally in the final poll, spurned the NIT and went home.

The disappointment was dulled when coach Lefty Driesell signed the 6-foot-11 Malone. Then Malone announced he was going to play professionally instead.

"We probably would have won it all if Moses had stayed," Driesell said yesterday.

Into this milieu of lowered expectations stepped a team with a whirlwind offense triggered by the speed of guards John Lucas, Mo Howard and freshman Brad Davis, the surprisingly effective rebounding of center Tom Roy and forward Owen Brown and a sixth man, freshman Steve Sheppard, who fit in immediately.

Relieved of all the pressure Malone's presence would have established, they were a loose group that played recklessly under control.

"That was one of Coach's [Driesell's] best coaching jobs, that and this year," said Lucas, now an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets. "We were not a very deep team [basically playing six] and we were very young, but we went out and beat almost everybody."

"That team ran like a machine," said Dave Pritchett, a Driesell assistant at the time who gained fame for renting eight different cars in one day on the recruiting trail. "We were coming off a tough season when we might have won it all if they had taken one more team from the ACC, so that next team was special. It blended together so well."

All Maryland did in 1974-75 was sweep North Carolina's Big Four (North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest) on their home courts, win the school's first ACC regular-season title, storm to a 24-5 record, finish No. 5 in the national poll and break the NCAA field-goal percentage record (.547). Eight times the Terps scored more than 100 points; 14 times they amassed 90 or more.

The rules had been amended, so Maryland made the NCAA field despite losing to N.C. State in the ACC tournament and, like this season, was sent west.

The first stop was a barn-like facility at Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Terps dispatched Creighton, 83-79, in workmanlike fashion. In a 32-team field, that shoved Maryland into the Sweet 16.

"I remember going to Las Cruces [N.M.] and it was stuck in the middle of nowhere," said Lucas. "But when our game started, the place was sold out. That sticks in my mind."

Lucas, giving away four inches and about 50 pounds, patrolled Notre Dame's Adrian Dantley in that Sweet 16 game and it was a virtual standoff. In the 300th victory of Driesell's career, Maryland's supporting cast was too strong and the Irish fell, 83-71.

That advanced Maryland to the Elite Eight against a Louisville club that would suffer a gut-wrenching, 75-74 loss to UCLA in the national semifinals. Louisville was ranked third in the nation and had a deep, talented team.

Veteran Philip Bond outplayed Davis, and Brown had a mystifying day, flubbing numerous easy shots as Louisville coasted, 96-82.

"I think they accomplished more than any team I've ever coached," said Driesell. "Some teams you really have to stay on, but this one had a knack for getting instinctively ready without prompting."

Billy Hahn, another member of that team who is now Gary Williams' top assistant with the Terps, reflected on the season:

"I understand the importance of it now that I'm older. You try to tell players now that it's a once-in-a--lifetime opportunity. I remember how disappointed I was that we didn't quite get there [the Final Four].

"As a player, you're going to college and it's sort of like a blur. You get older, you have a tendency to understand the importance of situations more. You appreciate the significance of what this can do for you, not only as a program, but as an individual. I understand that now."

Sun staff writer Bill Free contributed to this article

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