A hot team, enthusiastic crowd warm Gary Williams' heart

February 08, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — Help me out here: Was there some kind of big snowstorm around these parts recently?

Record accumulations? Impassable roads? End-of-the-world coverage on TV? Yeah, thought I heard something about that.

But no one was really focused on that Sunday afternoon at Comcast Center, where the Maryland Terrapins routed North Carolina, 92-71, for their 16th win and sixth Atlantic Coast Conference victory in the kind of wild, party atmosphere you don't normally see around here.

If this was "Snowmaggedon" or "Snowpocalypse" or whatever they were calling it, the Terps thrived in it. There were so many slick passes and showboat dunks, you thought it were an outtake from an NBA All-Star Game.

With a lot of season-ticket holders staying home because of the road conditions - hey, I would've wussed out myself if I didn't have to work - the school opened those seats to the students.

So the place was a sea of red T-shirts, and the energy level was off the charts.

Do season-ticket holders do the wave? I don't think so.

Do they chant "NIT! NIT!" from the courtside seats at the poor Carolina players, a cruel reference to the second-rate tournament the Tar Heels (13-9, 2-6 in the ACC) could end up in?

Yep, flood the place with a lot of kids who've been cooped up in their dorms for three days - and, OK, might have had a cocktail or two beforehand - and you've got a whole different vibe.

"It was amazing," Terps coach Gary Williams said of the atmosphere. "So many people said they were coming. If they had to take a dog sled to the game, they were coming."

With the roads around College Park a mess, no one, including athletic director Debbie Yow, was sure what to expect for this game.

At first, the school was telling fans not to drive to the game because of the road conditions and because the Comcast Center parking lots hadn't been dug out.

"The conditions were unprecedented," Yow said an hour before the game. "Safety had to be our No. 1 concern."

But by Saturday night, the unofficial policy seemed to be: If you can get here without killing yourself and backing up traffic on I-95 for miles, come on down.

Still, the roads were so bad Friday and Saturday that Williams spent both nights at the nearby Inn and Conference Center instead of risking sliding off into a ditch on the ride home.

You know how Williams gets a little wired before big games?

Now imagine what the guy's like when he's not sleeping in his own bed for two nights.

When he took the floor moments before the start of the game and gave his signature fist pump to the students, man, it was a haymaker, like a Mike Tyson uppercut back when Tyson could actually hurt you with a punch.

And in his post-game remarks with Terps radio play-by-play man Johnny Holliday, an emotional - and clearly exhausted - Williams teared up a couple of times talking about how well the team played despite all the snow-related distractions.

"When you're coaching, you don't want any changes in what you try to do," he said later, explaining his emotional reaction. "And what we went through with the snow and everything and tried to get ready for the day ... you want to play well, but you're proud of these guys when they make the effort in a little different situation."

Speaking of sleep deficits and exhaustion, how do you think Carolina felt?

The Tar Heels flew here Friday afternoon, a day earlier than normal, to beat the big storm.

The night before, they had lost, 74-70, at Virginia Tech, for their fifth loss in their past six games.

After that, they didn't get back to Chapel Hill until 2 in the morning. Then after the players went to morning classes, the team left at 1:30 p.m. for the airport and the flight to Baltimore- Washington International Marshall.

Think Roy Williams and his players were in a swell mood when their plane touched down?

And it got worse. They couldn't practice Saturday at Comcast Center because the team bus couldn't get out of the parking lot of their Beltsville hotel.

So they scheduled a walk-through in the hotel's ballroom - what do you do there, pretend the buffet table is the top of the key?

Pretend one of the chandeliers is the basket?

But then - ta-daa! - came word that the hotel parking lot was now clear. So the Tar Heels finally bused over to Comcast Center around 5 o'clock, a trip that probably took forever with the snow drifting and the roads only partially plowed.

But Gary Williams didn't seem to feel too sorry for his good buddy - and yes, I say that facetiously - Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.

"Snowmageddon" or "Snowpocalypse" had brought out the best in his team - and the best in the Maryland students and fans.

And that was all that mattered.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.


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