The Washington Times - March 5, 2011, 06:16PM

For much of its meandering and generally fruitless season, the Maryland basketball team’s greatest problem was closing out games against quality opponents. In short, it was Team Close But Not Quite.

Those suddenly seem like halcyon days for the Terrapins.

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Maryland will limp into the ACC tournament as owners of a three-game losing streak following their latest stumble, a 74-60 setback against Virginia in what – for now, anyway – stands as the Terps’ home finale.

It was Maryland’s third straight loss by double figures and was every bit as ugly as Wednesday’s flop at Miami. The Terps (18-13, 7-9 ACC) had their usual run, this time to get within five in the final five minutes. But they could get no closer, failing to score on the next three possessions to abort yet another comeback.

“We haven’t been able to be tough,” sophomore Jordan Williams said. “We just have to be a tougher team, especially when we  brought it back to five. It’s times like that we get the ball back and we shot a 3, which is a bad shot. At that point, we’re making a run and making a run, and all the sudden we do something we shouldn’t do.”

If this sounds like an echo, well, it’s because it is. Maryland faced a variety of ills all season, a rotation of issues that rarely saw the same problem emerge in consecutive games.

None, though, ever seemed fully fixed, whether it was shaky outside shooting, defensive lapses in the second half of the season and the omnipresent problem of not closing out teams.

It’s difficult to do the latter without a lead, something the Terps never had in the final 25 minutes against the Cavaliers (16-14, 7-9). The Terps couldn’t defend the suddenly sizzling Sammy Zeglinski (career-high 25 points), couldn’t produce a consistent perimeter threat and failed to summon an offensive surge until Virginia was up 13 points.

Even when things were relatively even early on, there were signs Maryland was in for more of the same.

“The first four minutes, you don’t have to win the game there, but you have to show the officials and show the crowd how hard you’re playing and how hard you’re flying around,” coach Gary Williams said. “They can see that. The officials work enough game and they like the game, that’s why they’re there. That’s who you’re trying to impress. You set the tempo for how you’re going to play, especially for the rest of the half. I didn’t think we did a good job of that.”

It quickly became clear the final home game – barring an NIT date at Comcast Center – for Adrian Bowie, Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker would end poorly. A year after winning a share of the ACC regular season title, these Terps wouldn’t even crack .500 in the conference.

Its seeding for the conference tournament remains slightly in flux; it will be the No. 7 seed if Miami loses at Georgia Tech on Sunday, the No. 8 seed should the Hurricanes win. Either way, Gary Williams is fully aware of the only method remaining for Maryland to salvage its season.

“Win four,” Williams said without hesitation. “I think where we are right now, realistically, though I’ve heard 100 teams are on the bubble. We might still be on the bubble. I have to check.”

No need. The Terps are buried far from the at-large cut line, even in a relatively weak year across the nation and with three more NCAA berths available than in the past.

So it’s Greensboro or bust, the dream of a four-game, four-day season for a team that could barely be bothered on its way to lethargic losses to Miami and Virginia in a four-day span.

“The difference was we thought that we could win the game without working hard, so we didn’t work hard and they wanted it more,” freshman guard Terrell Stoglin said.

Jarring words indeed. In a span of a week, Team Close But Not Quite became Team Not Even Close. The Terps left the regular season with a whimper, with the days of simply falling short barely a memory and a plethora of issues to fix before the year is gone for good.

Patrick Stevens