- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

The celebration of Sunday’s 72-60 victory over Duke was mostly finished when Will Bowers — center, senior and philosopher — considered the result’s potential impact on Maryland’s season.

It was a victory over a ranked team, steadied the Terrapins after a lackluster loss to Virginia and brought all the good feelings a win over a program that has lorded over the ACC for the majority of a decade should evoke.

But it also was just one outing for a team still facing six regular season games and the ACC tournament before its postseason fate is rendered on Selection Sunday.

“Playing Duke is fun, it’s a great atmosphere, but if you win it’s only one league game,” Bowers said.

“We’ve had a couple wins like that before and it hasn’t worked out that way, so basically it’s just how you come into practice tomorrow and view it.”

The Terps (18-7, 4-6 ACC) have not won consecutive games in conference play this season, fumbling opportunities to get on an extended run three times before. Defense abandoned the Terps the first two times, and sluggishness engulfed Maryland the third time.

Yet Sunday was encouraging on several levels.

Defensive meltdowns rarely were an issue, and senior guards D.J. Strawberry and Mike Jones both collected five rebounds as the Terps broke even in a category that has plagued them all season.

It was the Terps’ most fundamentally sound performance in months, and continuing to play in such a fashion tomorrow against N.C. State (13-10, 3-7) likely would bolster Maryland’s NCAA tournament hopes.

“We don’t have a choice. That’s how we have to play,” coach Gary Williams said. “There’s no ‘We can do this, we can do that.’ Maybe some teams can do that, but we can’t. That’s the effort we need every night.”

What is puzzling is why Maryland hasn’t played so well with any consistency since the calendar turned to November. The Terps, with their RPI of 35, 7-6 record against the top 100 teams in that index and reputable 26th-ranked schedule according to collegerpi.com, have the profile of a team worthy of postseason consideration.

Yet their enigmatic split personality is reason to pause, and it will remain so until a performance like Sunday’s is followed by at least one similar one, if not more.

“We had some lapses where we didn’t play well, we didn’t play smart, we didn’t play together,” Strawberry said. “That’s just not us as a team, the way we were playing. … When we play like we did at the beginning of the season, nobody can beat us, I don’t think. We can play with the best of them. We’re a good team when we play like that.”

The beginning of the season — when Maryland rattled off eight straight wins in November — is the most obvious reminder of how well it can play over an extended period. There is no guarantee the Terps can recapture their autumn form in mid-February, though maintaining their effort from Sunday for the next four weeks would help.

“That’s got to be every game,” freshman guard Greivis Vasquez said. “I’m not satisfied. I’m happy — I mean, we beat Duke, Coach K and all that. But we have N.C. State on Wednesday.”

Added Williams: “If we hang in there and we play tough, hopefully we can get a lot more wins down the stretch, but it’s going to take a lot more work to do that.”

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