COLLEGE PARK - Josh Howard did not pay attention, and for the Wake Forest senior, such pride served him well during most, though not all, of his team's game against Maryland yesterday.
He ignored a high-ankle sprain and the daunting task of beating the nation's No. 2 team on its own court.
But he also acknowledged his mind drifted during a timeout with 10 seconds remaining. No timeouts left, Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said before his team broke the huddle - his first words and his last - with the score tied at 89-89 with 10 seconds left.
Others heard Prosser's instructions. Darius Songaila did. Taron Downey did. Craig Dawson did. Howard did not. Considering this development and how it affected Maryland, point guard Steve Blake simply said, "A little luck can never hurt."
Maryland's luck is Wake's self-inflicted agony. Howard - after grabbing a Juan Dixon miss for his 15th rebound - called a timeout with less than two seconds left. That led to a technical foul against the Deacons, then a one-point loss to the Terrapins when Dixon made the first of two free throws.
"I wasn't paying attention in the huddle," said Howard, who stifled tears in the locker room after the game. "I can make up a million excuses, but I just let my team down."
The Deacons entered Cole Field House licking their wounds after a 29-point beating by No. 3 Duke, and had been branded inconsistent by Dixon, whose uncomplimentary remarks took up a disproportionate amount of space in the visitors' locker room.
Led by Howard, who finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, and Craig Dawson, who finished with a game-high 27 points, Wake Forest led for much of the game in what was the team's best effort against the Terps in recent years.
"We proved we can play with anybody," Howard said. "We just need to learn how to finish it out."
Howard and Dawson put Wake in position to win yesterday's game, and both were unable to take them beyond that.
In the case of Dawson, the senior from Kinston, N.C., took advantage of Maryland's press, finding himself open on fast-break opportunities. That helped him to a fast start, as he scored 10 points in the first six minutes on his way to a 22-point first half in which he hit six of seven shots from three-point range.
But once Maryland stopped pressing, Dawson couldn't create his own opportunities. He had only four shot attempts in the second half as Terps coach Gary Williams switched Dixon off him in favor of Byron Mouton.
"I would give back all of the threes for a `W,' " said Dawson, who hit 11 three-pointers - tying an Atlantic Coast Conference record - and scored 38 points against Clemson on Feb. 13.
While Dawson's performance was impressive, Howard's was inspirational, because he wasn't expected to play. He had missed three of Wake's past four games with a high ankle sprain.
As soon as he entered the game, Wake went from being down three points to being up six, going on a 12-3 run on the way to a 56-46 halftime lead. When Maryland seemed to have regained the momentum by scoring 10 of the first 12 points of the second half, it was Howard who scored his team's next three baskets, keeping the Deacons ahead until the final two minutes.
"We're not where we are in this game without Josh," Prosser said. "It took courage to play as many minutes as he did."
Songaila amplified that statement, saying: "It shouldn't have come down to that. I don't blame it on Josh."
Indeed, after taking an 85-81 lead with 4:33 left, the Deacons made two of nine shots in the last four minutes. And Howard also missed a free throw after a layup that would have given Wake Forest a 90-89 lead with 10 seconds left.
All Howard remembered was "Coach saying we had only one timeout left," with 1:29 left in the game, but did not notice that Wake Forest's timeout 1:09 later was its last.
"I just messed up," Howard said. "A lot of people have done that. I'm just one of them."