Terrapins inaugurate new home with a win

Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- There wasn't much pomp and there was even less circumstance yesterday as the University of Maryland men's basketball team opened its season, the first being played at the $108 million Comcast Center.

The Terrapins, last season's national champions, didn't exactly give the sellout crowd of 17,950 much to get excited about, putting on an uneven performance in their 64-49 victory over Miami of Ohio.

"It was hard to get too excited about the way we played," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We made some great plays, but we also made some bad ones too."

The loudest the fans seemed to get came before the game, first in booing departing Gov. Parris N. Glendening after he was handed a ceremonial ball from Williams and then in cheering as last season's national championship banner was unfurled.

Williams said the reception given Glendening was "kind of ridiculous" considering how much the governor had championed the project to build the new arena. Williams also said the pre-game atmosphere was muted because hundreds of students didn't arrive until after the game started.

"I guess 5 o'clock is a little too early for them to get up on a Sunday afternoon," Williams said sarcastically.

But some of the no-frills approach was in accordance with what Williams wanted. Athletic director Debbie Yow said Williams rejected the idea of unfurling another banner, one honoring him as last season's Atlantic Coast Conference and national coach of the year.

"He wanted it to be like any game night," Yow said at halftime.

In fact, there wasn't much to distinguish yesterday's opener from any played across campus at Cole Field House, which closed last season after 47 years.

But many expect the atmosphere in the new building, not to mention the execution by a newly constructed team, to improve as the season wears on and the competition rises to the level of the ACC.

"Unfortunately, there's an opponent [in Miami], a worthy opponent, but it's just not the same as an ACC foe," said former Maryland All-American Len Elmore, the analyst on ESPN's national telecast of the game. "This place will be electric when those teams play here."

Williams compared it to buying a new house.

"You've got to get comfortable," he said after the game. "Right now, people are still looking around."

If anyone seems to have moved into the new surroundings seamlessly, it's the students, at least those who arrived long before the opening tip.

Sophomores Matt Bowen of Prince Frederick and Mark Zaner of Olney had prime seats after nearly missing out on tickets to the game.

Though Bowen said he preferred the old ticket distribution system for students that in recent years involved camping out overnight -- or for several days, depending on the game -- he forgot to register for the new system, which is done online. He had to wait to see if any of the 4,000 tickets allotted for students went unclaimed.

"I got one of the last ones," he said.

Zaner registered for his tickets but forgot to pick them up. He, too, was able to get an unclaimed ticket. He and Bowen arrived at the Comcast Center in time to claim seats in the first row given to students ringing the court.

"It's much better than at Cole," Zaner said. "Cole was a great place, but we're much closer to the game here."

One prominent fan with a courtside seat barely made it for the opening tip. Just as the ball was being tossed in the air, Ravens minority owner Steve Bisciotti was trying to discreetly slip into his mid-court seat.

Bisciotti said he left Ravens Stadium at 4:25 p.m. after his other team eked out a 13-12 win over the Tennessee Titans.

"I figured that if Gary came down to the Super Bowl after the Duke game [in 2001], I could get here for this," said Bisciotti, who acknowledged that a police escort came in handy in getting him to the Comcast Center on time.

Though neither a Super Bowl nor another Final Four run appears on the immediate horizon for either of Bisciotti's favorite teams, a new era of Maryland basketball is certainly under way because of the Comcast Center.

University President C.D. Mote Jr. said there were a number of factors in making the new arena a reality: a team that suddenly became a hot ticket by reaching two straight Final Fours, a supportive state government that helped finance the project and a public willing to pay the price of admission.

"It's unusual for everything to come together like it has," Mote said. "You have to take advantage of that."

Mote gazed at the sea of red that was evident in every crevice.

"This place is breathtaking," he said.

Fred Knode, 50, of Hagerstown didn't have the same viewpoint, sitting in the last row of Section 211, closer to the heating and air conditioning ducts than to the action.

"I don't think the engineers did all that great for $108 million, but I don't know what the answer is. All this," he said, pointing at ducts, "should be up and out of here. Not that it's a distraction, but you feel like you're sitting in the rafters."

Ron Weathers of Columbia was sitting nearly as high as Knode in Section 217 but didn't share his opinion.

"I like the layout, and I think people are going to like it," said Weathers, 38, who left the Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field at halftime to make tip-off. "What I really like is that the students are all around the court. It's a good time to be a student around here."

Sun staff writer Paul McMullen contributed to this article.

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