- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

The Maryland Terrapins have a lot of scoreboard watching ahead.

The No. 13 Terrapins (19-7, 11-4) beat N.C. State 68-65 on Sunday night, but they don't play again until Sunday at Virginia in the regular-season finale. However, the Terps at least will know by game time whether they can get the top seed in the ACC tournament.

Maryland needs N.C. State to beat No. 9 Wake Forest (21-4, 11-3) on Saturday to give the Terps the tiebreaker over the Demon Deacons should they both finish 12-4. A Wake Forest loss to North Carolina on Wednesday is irrelevant unless Maryland loses to Virginia.

Meanwhile, Maryland also must watch No. 10 Duke (20-5, 10-4) play Florida State on Thursday and North Carolina hours before the Terps' tipoff. The results will tell Maryland whether beating Virginia is even necessary to finish as the No. 2 seed. Maryland is a half-game ahead of Duke and holds the tiebreaker edge, so the Terps will clinch second with a Blue Devils loss.

Finally, Maryland couldn't even guess who it will play in the ACC tournament opener on March 14, no matter which seeds it gets. Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina are all 5-9 in the conference and Florida State is 4-11.

And if the Terps have some extra time, they can always watch national games that could impact their NCAA tournament seeding. Maryland has improved to a No. 4 seed in some bracket projections on the cusp of avoiding a tough opening-weekend game.

Got all that?

"I was never good at math," coach Gary Williams said jokingly. "The one thing you find out is you control your team. If you let other stuff get in there you don't do as good a job with your own team. You can't worry about whether this team wins or loses. It would be nice to get some help, but you're too disappointed if you put everything into that … and it doesn't happen. You just worry about yourself."

Maryland was plenty worried over slipping to third place in the ACC when it was trailing N.C. State by 11 with 9:05 remaining on Sunday. The Wolfpack had thwarted one Terps run with the crowd of 19,722 howling like wolves. An N.C. State upset might have clinched an NCAA at-large tournament bid for the second straight year, but the Wolfpack (15-10, 8-6) couldn't handle Maryland's pressure defense, which sparked a quick 8-0 run that resulted in a 19-7 finish in the final seven minutes.

"This win shows how tough we are," said guard Drew Nicholas, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer. "It was similar to Duke [on Feb. 19] where we fought back a couple times from being down 10. We didn't get it done there, but we did here."

The Terps' comeback reflected a recent trend of snuffing opponents despite slow starts. Unlike last year's national championship team, Maryland doesn't overwhelm its opponents early. The Terps often need much of the first half to gain momentum, then come out strong in the second half and dominate the final minutes. Maryland regularly has countered double-digit deficits with pressure defense.

"This has been a great team, this team, in terms of finding a way to stay in games, finding a way to win games," Williams said.

ACC coaches have long predicted Maryland's five seniors would be the difference at season's end in a youth-oriented conference. With senior forward Tahj Holden scoring a career-high for the second time in four games with 20 points against N.C. State, Maryland now has a second frontcourt option should senior center Ryan Randle stumble like he did against the Wolfpack (six points, one rebound). Maryland has won four of five games since a midseason two-game slump, with three seniors alternating as leading scorer.

"It speaks to the senior leadership," Nicholas said. "We're all going to be there at the end. Hopefully, we can continue it to the NCAA tournament. We like our chances."

Nicholas lingered on the court after defeating N.C. State. Tired of seeing a large sign declaring "Hey Nicholas, U [stink]" behind the Terps' bench, Nicholas silenced his tormentors with the decisive 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining. Nicholas called his first buzzer-beater since ninth grade a "storybook ending." He wasn't above heckling the sign-waving fan, either.

"I had to go say my two pieces to her," Nicholas said.

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