- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

The Maryland Terrapins have reached the desperation stage as they play host to Clemson tonight at Comcast Center. One more misstep likely means the Terps will not make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years.

“We just have to get the win,” coach Gary Williams said “That’s the big thing. Figure out a way. I don’t care how ugly it looks. Just get it.”

Maryland is in seventh place in the ACC and sinking out of NCAA consideration after three consecutive losses to ranked teams. The Terps (13-10, 4-8 ACC) also are in jeopardy of falling into the ACC tournament play-in game for the first time since 1993 with only a half-game lead over eighth-place Virginia.

The Terps likely need three more wins to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament. And with home games against No.11 Wake Forest and Virginia and a visit to 14th-ranked N.C. State left, Maryland doesn’t have the luxury of tripping up against last-place Clemson (10-14, 3-10).

“Everybody is playing real tough at home, so we need these [home] wins,” center Jamar Smith said after Duke pounded the Terps 86-63 on Sunday in Durham, N.C. “Physically, I think we’re ready to play. Mentally, we have got to get into that mindset of playing all game long. It’s a mental thing for us.”

The Tigers appear to be made-to-order for the reeling Terps. Clemson has lost all six of its conference road games. Maryland has won the last 12 meetings, including a 65-52 win at Littlejohn Coliseum in January. And the Tigers’ offense rivals the Terps for worst in the ACC.

The Tigers are in their first year under ex-Dayton coach Oliver Purnell, who was an assistant to Lefty Driesell at Maryland. Clemson is at the bottom of the league in scoring (66.6 points) and 3-point percentage (31.9). The Tigers’ 44 percent shooting from the field is less than a point higher than league-worst Maryland.

Playing a weak offense should be the remedy for the Terps, whose defense has been nearly as bad as their inept offense of late. Maryland allowed its last three opponents to shoot at least 50 percent, yielding many points on turnovers converted into easy baskets. Maryland has had particular difficulties cutting off fastbreaks.

“You have to talk in transition defense,” Williams said, referring to players being unsure whether to stop the ball or drop back as opponents push the ball up court.

Williams said chemistry eventually will improve for his young team and that veteran teams — like Duke and senior point guard Chris Duhon — are exploiting the lack of experience to set up layups and open jumpers on the break.

“Last year we started the year with guys who had done it for three years,” Williams said. “We don’t have that luxury. … We are playing really good teams, and we are not [defending the break] very well. It’s not good.”

Maryland will face a much slower, smaller and less-skilled team tonight. The Tigers shot 34 percent (20 of 59) from the field in Saturday’s loss to Virginia and are last in the ACC with 13.3 assists a game.

All that should provide a nice confidence boost for the Terps, who have had little to feel good about recently and admit they are experiencing the added burden of keeping alive the NCAA streak.

“Definitely,” said point guard John Gilchrist, who constantly hears about it from fans, students and the media. “But you have to be optimistic about the situation and think we are going to make it.”

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