- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

No. 23 Maryland has a chance to spend two weeks atop the ACC basketball standings. But to do so, the Terrapins will have to defeat Florida State tonight at Comcast Center.

The fourth-earliest ACC opener in coach Gary Williams’ 16-year tenure, plus today’s North Carolina-Virginia Tech game, are the only league contests before Jan. 2.

The opportunity to sit atop the conference fueled practices over the past week for a team that wants to prove it can compete in a league with six other ranked teams.

“Coach has been telling us we’ve lost a couple games and lots of people around this area have mixed emotions about us as a team,” forward Mike Grinnon said. “We want to make a statement that we’re going to have a great year. We use it as a motivational factor, but teams may overlook us a little bit.”

The Terps (5-2) have had a solid but uneven start. Maryland won its first three, including an 84-61 rout of then-No. 25 Memphis. However, Maryland lost at then-No. 25 Wisconsin and to then-unranked George Washington, missing chances to tie in the final minute of both games.

After playing just four games over 29 days, the Terps are anxious to begin play in the highly competitive conference race. They just need to run their offense more effectively underneath and extend their defense to the perimeter.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything this year,” guard D.J. Strawberry said. “We’ve had a couple of good games, but we have to show consistency.”

The Terps open ACC play against an opponent that has pestered them in recent years. Florida State beat Maryland in the ACC opener last season, and the Terps escaped Tallahassee with a mere two-point victory two seasons ago. The Terps’ 22-6 series lead is not indicative of how competitive the series has been in recent years.

Maybe that’s why Williams spent recent practices projecting a big-game mentality despite preparing for a mediocre opponent with losses to the likes of Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi and Kent State.

Grinnon and Strawberry said Williams pledged to have his team as ready for Florida State as it was for the 2002 national championship game. Williams countered he was just trying to illustrate the importance of a conference game sandwiched between nonleague foes UNC Asheville and American.

“[Williams] will have a little bit extra,” Strawberry said. “He expects us to be just as prepared as he is.”

It would be easy for the Terps to struggle after playing just one game in two weeks, including a week of final exams. Williams had two squad scrimmages to maintain the team’s intensity.

“It gets the edge back to where you want to play,” Grinnon said of the break.

The only other pre-Christmas conference openers under Williams were in 1996, 1997 and 1998, but those games didn’t come immediately after finals.

“It’s been disruptive getting ready for this game,” Williams said. “It would be nice to get this win.”

It’s also Maryland’s only meeting with Florida State under the new, unbalanced ACC schedule. A loss would be especially damaging if the teams were even at season’s end since Florida State would win the tiebreaker because of the head-to-head result. Maryland also plays Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Miami once each this season.

“It’s one of those things where you don’t get a second chance [for redemption] if you lose,” Williams said.

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