- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

Lonny Baxter described Florida State's wild celebration at Cole Field House last season as "uncalled for." Steve Blake remembers the lonely feeling as Maryland fans booed the home team off its own court. Coach Gary Williams recalls the verbal abuse and one man yelling "NIT" at him as he walked into the tunnel after the stunning loss to the lowly Seminoles.

"The way I looked at it, that was the longest word he could spell," said Williams, now able to joke about the miserable night of Feb. 14 that has been dubbed the Valentine's Day Massacre. The Terrapins responded by pounding Wake Forest three days later and going all the way to the program's first Final Four.

But from all the stinging memories of that game which concluded with Terence Morris missing an open 3-pointer, the one that hurts most is Florida State's Delvon Arrington dancing atop the scorer's table to commemorate the Seminoles' upset. The point guard's two-step served both as a cathartic moment for his team and an injection of salt in the Terps' wounds.

"Can't forget that," Blake recalled of the night when Maryland lost for the fifth time in six games and fell to 15-9. "It was just like we didn't know what else could go wrong. … It was real disappointing. I don't know what could be worse than that."

As Arrington and Co. return to Cole today, the No. 3 Terps (15-3, 5-1 ACC) will be looking to move into first place by a half-game over Duke, which plays host to No. 7 Virginia tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Seminoles (10-7, 3-3) have the distinction of being the only team to beat the top-ranked Blue Devils and are becoming an NCAA tournament contender.

Florida State has won six of eight since being upset by American in Tallahassee on Dec. 22 and already has one more win than all last season. The winning stretch includes a last-minute drive and score by Monte Cummings that gave it a 77-76 win over Duke and a 68-63 victory over Clemson on Thursday. The Seminoles have a far different outlook than last season, when the only waltzing they were doing had nothing to do with the Big Dance.

"The [celebrating] wasn't meant towards Maryland," said Arrington, whose team had a 6-17 record and was 1-9 in the ACC when it last came to town. "They don't understand the season we went through. We knew we weren't going anywhere, and it hurt. That [victory] was our joy."

And the Terps' pain.

"Just the way they acted after the game really stands out in everybody's mind," Baxter said. "That's what everybody is thinking. We owe them from last year."

The Seminoles come in this time looking to improve their tournament resume. Arrington is one of three starting seniors and the program's all-time assist leader. The 5-foot-11 speedster is averaging 11 points and 7.1 assists. Cummings (18.5 points in ACC play) is a 6-foot-4 slashing swingman and a savvy 25-year old Army veteran.

Florida State is fast and athletic and particularly dangerous when guard Antwuan Dixon (10.7 points, 42 percent 3-point shooting) is on.

"They are as quick as anybody we play. They are as quick as Oklahoma," said Williams, whose Terps had beaten the Seminoles 10 consecutive times before last February.

Of course, the Seminoles needed a miserable shooting night by Duke (40 percent) to pull the shocker. They will be in trouble if Maryland plays anywhere like it did in Wednesday's 85-63 shellacking of No. 21 Wake Forest.

In that game, the Terps regained their defensive intensity as support players showed they can lift the team even if Juan Dixon and Baxter aren't having great games. Blake scored 19 points one shy of his career high after totaling just 13 over the past three games.

"The way they were leaving me on the screen and roll was leaving me wide open at the top of the key," said Blake, the ACC's assists leader at 7.5. "I was just shooting it and knocking it down."

Drew Nicholas scored in double figures for a third straight game off the bench. Reserve forward Tahj Holden (11 points) broke out of his slump, and backup center Ryan Randle contributed six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

"He's great. He's a quick learner," Williams said of Randle. "He's so much better now than he was October 15th, it's incredible."

Williams downplayed the significance of the Seminoles' win in Cole because it was last season and said he didn't plan to show a tape of the game to his players necause "we don't need some bulletin board information or anything like that to get ready to play."

He didn't need to. That video is cued up in the Terps' mental VCRs.

"We know we don't want it to happen again because of how bad it felt," Blake said. "We're too good for that."

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