- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Maryland forward Travis Garrison walked into the Greensboro Coliseum Wednesday and allowed the memories of the Terrapins’ ACC tournament run two years ago to cascade through his mind.

Maryland was a No. 6 seed then and won a late-night opener to spark an extended run that carried it from the NCAA tournament bubble to an automatic bid. The Terps couldn’t help but feel some deja vu earlier in the week when they were again the sixth seed given the task of closing out the first full day of the ACC tournament.

The hopes of an encore to match those familiar feelings only crescendoed last night as the Terps ripped 11th-seeded Georgia Tech 82-64 before an increasingly sparse gathering to keep alive their NCAA prospects.

Nik Caner-Medley scored a team-high 20 points and Mike Jones added 19 for Maryland (19-11), which will meet third-seeded Boston College (24-6) today’s late quarterfinal.

“The players, they’re responsible for the way we’re playing right now,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “It’s their attitude, their effort in practice that allows us to play like this at this point in the season. You look around and see some teams that have gone through some tough things that aren’t necessarily playing as well right now.”

It was perhaps Maryland’s most dominant performance of the season, an eye-opening win even though it came against an inexperienced and reeling team that has dropped 13 of its last 15 games. Especially significant was another fine defensive performance, a facet of the game that has propelled Maryland to three victories in as many games in March.

The Terps completed a three-game sweep of the Yellow Jackets with a rapid start featuring solid rebounding and sizzling shooting. Maryland never trailed and was tied at 7-7, but senior forward Nik Caner-Medley scored all seven of his first-half points in less than a minute to help the Terps re-open a lead.

That sparked a 16-2 run that threatened to put the Yellow Jackets away. Tech pulled within 11, but Jones delivered a 3-pointer to stifle any hopes of a comeback.

“I think we could have done a better job when we got up like we did, but I think you learn from every situation you go through,” Caner-Medley said. “We haven’t had too many games where we were up 30, so you learn from that situation.”

About the only concern Williams might have had as his team was pulling away was the fouls piling up in his four-man frontcourt rotation. Williams shrugged off burning his forwards’ fouls so long as they were discouraging penetration from the perimeter. The Terps blocked seven shots before the break.

Of course, many of those came before Garrison, Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist all picked up a pair of fouls. Yet as the three shuttled in and out, junior Will Bowers began constructing his best game of the year scoring five points in 10 minutes before halftime while fortifying the Terps’ defense.

The Terps’ perimeter defense, for so much of the season a trouble spot, thrived in a late-season game again. The Terps had surrendered seven 3-pointers apiece to guard-oriented Virginia and Miami, but the Yellow Jackets were just 4-of-15 from beyond the arc.

Maryland led by as many as 29, but the Yellow Jackets twice narrowed it to 14 before the Terps re-asserted control.

On a wild day around the country in which Syracuse probably punched its NCAA tournament ticket with an upset of Connecticut while Air Force, Florida State and Michigan all might have dealt mortal wounds to their postseason hopes, the Terps pretty much maintained their status quo.

A victory over the Yellow Jackets, ranked No. 148 according to collegerpi.com, is hardly overwhelming, but a loss would have likely doomed Maryland to a second straight trip to the NIT. Instead, Maryland earned the opportunity to pick up its first victory over a top-50 team in the RPI since guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible.

The Terps are 6-7 without McCray, but have won three straight for the first time since resuming ACC play in early January. And while no ACC team has missed the tournament after going at least .500 and winning one game in the league tournament since the field expanded to 48 in 1980, a victory tonight would prove Maryland can beat an NCAA-caliber team without McCray.

Just as importantly, it would continue to support the Terps’ belief they just might have another magical weekend in Greensboro within them.

“It’s still kind of early to tell. Last time we had three teams we had to get through and now it’s going to take us four,” Garrison said. “But it was a good win today.”

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