by Joe Schwartz
RALEIGH/RBC CENTER - Fifty minutes before the N.C. State-Maryland tipoff at the RBC Center on Wednesday, reporters were trading stories back in the media center, a white-and-red room where stat junkies face the wall and scribe away.
What do you think Tiger Woods will say at his press conference Friday? Did you hear that Bobby Frasor interview we had today? He called in from Bulgaria. How about that UNC game the other day? Was that the worst 10 minutes of basketball you've ever seen?
Those are the kinds of things we press types banter about while gulping complimentary Coca-Cola products when the local team in the locker room down the hall is in last place in the ACC and sporting a four-game losing streak.
Make it five.
Some called the Wolfpack's 67-58 defeat a tale of two halves, a phrase I generally despise as every game I've seen is played in two parts, but it's easy to see why the bland sports phrase is apt here.
Sidney Lowe's team held a 10-point lead at intermission, having shot 44.4 percent from the field and holding the Terps to 33.3 percent. That reversed after the break, the Wolfpack hoisting shots at a 23.3 percent clip and Maryland tickling the twine 56 percent of the time.
"I just think we got away from what we did in the first half," Lowe said.
"We forced some shots. We had at least six guys in the second half who took bad shots, and it's just like one after another, and (Maryland) made their run."
The gutted coach questioned his team's resolve, too. Asked what the pulse of the team was in the locker room, he said, "I'm not sure what their pulse is. One guy looked like he was going to cry. There were a lot of guys with their heads down, but the question is what are you going to do about it? When is it going to be enough?"
The Wolfpack have now lost seven straight ACC tilts, going winless since shocking Duke in Jan. 20. They've lost 32 of their last 40 against Maryland, too. You didn't need a media guide to clue you in to the dispair among Wolfpack backers, though. The signs, both literal and figurative, of a season perhaps better left forgotten, abounded:
- As athletic director Lee Fowler walked off the court following a halftime presentation, students chanted "Fire Fowler." The embattled administrator muttered to himself, though he did keep in tune with the chanters.
- During a second-half timeout, N.C. State trotted the Bass Pack, the school's competitive bass fishing squad, onto the court. Donning X Games-style red and white graffitied shirts littered with sponsor logos, a half dozen of the anglers waved to the 14,288 in attendance who erupted when told the team had won an FLW College Fishing Northern Regional Championship.
"There's our national champions!" one fan remarked.
- Late in the game, forward Tracy Smith dribbled the ball of his foot while attempting to attempt a free throw. It rolled away embarassingly before a referee returned it to Smith, who sank the shot.
- When Maryland trailed 41-32 with 15:44 to go in the second stanza, one student yelled, as if to utter the most offensive statement possible, "Hey Gary Williams, you're losing to N.C. State!"
Students take turns heckling Vasquez
Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, loathed in arenas across the ACC because of his awkward shimmy shakes and gloating in front of opposing student sections, was a target of constant abuse Wednesday night.
N.C. State students didn't seem to care for his hair cut, a mousse-laden fauxhawk, and informed him that he should alter it lest he look like a term that offends Sarah Palin.
They chanted, "U-S-A, U-S-A" as the Venezuelan shot his free throws. Someone thought they'd hurt Vasquez's feelings by asking him how many medals Venezuela has won at the 2010 Winter Olympics. For the record, Venezuela, a warm-weather country, didn't send any athletes to Vancouver, leading the experts at NBC to predict that the country, "is not expected to contend for a medal."
Heckles, many which are too profane even for the Indy, came in both English and Spanish.
Vasquez just kept making buckets, though. He finished with a game-high 26 points and six assists, including five straight points down the stretch to seal the win.
"I don't think in his mind he was going to let us lose," Williams said.
Lowe said his team lacks a player like Vasquez who can be a floor leader and provide mental toughness.
"Like him or not, you have to respect him," Lowe said.
Fans remember glory days
Despite this game, and the last game, and the three before it, N.C. State still got to celebrate at half time when legends Lorenzo Charles and David Thompson were honored as part of the 100th anniversary of Wolfpack basketball.
Charles, who famously dunked Dereck Whittenburg's air ball as time expired to win the 1983 National Championship, had his No. 43 jersey honored. It now hangs next to Julius Hodge's No. 24.
It was a fitting honor for the 47-year-old who looked ready to lace them up, despite the PA announcer accidentally calling Charles's fourth-year his "senior citizen season."
Thompson, who led N.C. State to its first title in 1974 and was the Naismith Player of the Year in 1975, was greated with a roar as well.
Garry Stokan, president of the Atlanta Sports Council and a former Thompson teammate, presented him with an award and said Thompson's credentials mean Duke and UNC can't rival N.C. State's tradition.
"The one thing we have that they don't have is the greatest player in the history of college basketball," he said.
That'll have to be enough to tide them over until next year. Oh, next year.