WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The aneurysm-in-waiting that is Gary Williams darn near popped the second (or maybe it was the third) time that Chris Paul threw a perfect alley for some Wake Forest teammate to oop.
The Maryland coach screamed. And stomped. And sweated.
And the Terrapins got hammered anyway, 81-66, on Tuesday night by a Demon Deacon crew that is every bit as good as its No. 4 national ranking implies.
Are the Terps really this hapless? Or are they actually a good team that got its second consecutive, understandable drumming (No. 3 North Carolina whipped them by 34 on Saturday) at the hands of the basketball buzz saw that is Tobacco Road this winter? Three of the top five teams in the country are here.
A week ago, after all, Maryland was ranked 22nd in the country.
Now, after becoming the first team in league history to play consecutive road games against top-five opponents, the Terps return home at the crossroad of their season. Even if it is only January.
"I think good things are ahead for them," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said.
College basketball is a game of emotion and confidence, especially if you don't have someone as good as Paul, the sophomore superstar who could start for about 10 NBA teams right now – and will for one next year.
So try being Maryland, which is looking to gain footing in a league that boasts half of the top eight teams in the country and an All-American seemingly under every tobacco leaf. It just lost two games by a combined 49 points and postgame, Williams – calm by now – was pointing out the bright side of things.
Like how it could have been worse.
"These are tough games for anybody to play, first two road games in the league," he reasoned. "I think we can come back and be competitive."
Meanwhile, Wake keeps gaining steam in what is turning into a dream season for the school. Long the fourth member of the ACC's Carolina contingent, this small, academically competitive school doesn't have the national championship banners, monster fan base or media attention of Carolina, Duke and N.C. State.
At least not until this year.
With Paul as the touchstone and Prosser as the skipper, the program is dreaming of its first Final Four since 1962, when Billy Packer was its point guard. Perhaps not even during the Tim Duncan era was so much expected here. Certainly the team has never been this embraced.
Now Lawrence Joel Coliseum (capacity 14,665) is not just sold out, but rocking. Now the Deacons aren't just winning (14-1) but scoring style points en route, what with Paul, Justin Gray and Trent Strickland combining for an aerial show.
Saturday's top-five clash with North Carolina is one of the most anticipated games in school history.
"I am certainly going to watch that game," said Williams, "because both teams will play good defense and yet both will probably score 100."
Paul, a Winston-Salem product, is under siege.
"It's almost impossible to get enough tickets for this," he said. How many people have asked?
"Doesn't matter. We only get four."
"You come to Wake Forest," Prosser said, "to play in this league. You want big-game atmospheres and in this league you get several, sometimes once or twice a week. I think that is why you coach and why you play, to coach and play against the best."
Easy for Prosser to say now. Poor Williams isn't relishing the atmosphere quite so much.
His once-solid team shot a combined 3-for-36 from behind the arc over two games and saw star John Gilchrist get benched or hurt or both.
Williams has been in the league 16 years and a head coach 27. He won the NCAA title in 2002. Yet Tuesday he looked like he had been through something new, his head still spinning from the combined blur of Paul and Tar Heel point Raymond Felton, who kind of redefine the word speed.
He looked like he could use a stiff drink and another home game with Liberty.
Maryland could be a Sweet Sixteen club. Or it could be a NIT team. No one can say after this road trip.
"I've got some good guys playing for me," Williams said.
He looked like he still believed it.
- Chris Paul
- Gary Williams