- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

Maryland’s poor start in ACC play might leave an 11th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament in jeopardy.

The Terrapins (10-5, 1-3 ACC) appear headed for a middle-of-the-pack finish in the conference after recent losses to No.12 Georgia Tech and No.1 Duke. The ultra-competitive ACC could have as many as eight teams vying for NCAA tournament bids.

That means a series of games beginning Sunday at Clemson (8-8, 1-4) likely is crucial.

“People say that we have a young team, but I want to win this year,” coach Gary Williams said. “We played well at times … but against a team like Duke that is No.1 in the country, you have to do more than play well for half the game. The energy has to be there for 40 minutes.

“We just have to understand it’s tough out there. We can’t get down. We have to keep our motivation. We’ll get our chances.”

If the Terps manage an 8-8 ACC mark and 17-10 overall, they probably would receive an NCAA bid without needing to advance in the conference tournament — though that likely would mean a low NCAA seed. However, a losing mark in the conference would put Maryland on the bubble.

The youthful Terps mounted late rallies in four of their five losses and came back in overtime Dec.10 to beat No.1 Florida. Still, Maryland has to regain its confidence before the slump proves too costly.

“Everybody goes through it,” guard John Gilchrist said. “This makes you stronger. We’re going to win some ballgames, steal some games on the road. We have to turn this into a positive. You have to be mature about the situation. Teams go on winning streaks.”

Maryland is 3-3 against ranked teams, but the Terps remain unranked because of their inconsistency. The Terps beat No.9 North Carolina 86-80 on Jan.14, then lost at Georgia Tech 81-71 on Saturday and to Duke 68-60 on Wednesday at Comcast Center. They permitted large scoring runs in the losses, lapses that proved to be the difference.

“In a game like this, not giving up should come naturally,” forward Nik Caner-Medley said. “The thing I feel most bad about is that I don’t think we put our best game on the floor. When you play the No.1 team in the nation, you can’t have any lapses in energy. I feel like we’re a better team than we showed. We’ve beaten No.1s before.”

The schedule doesn’t get easier.

Maryland plays three of its next four games on the road: at Clemson, Wake Forest (Jan.29) and Virginia (Feb.4). The Terps escaped Clemson last year before losing at Wake Forest and Virginia. There are also rematches at North Carolina (Feb.15) and Duke (Feb.22).

Duke (15-1, 5-0) is threatening to turn what was expected to be a close race for the conference title into a runaway. The Blue Devils outlasted the Terps after Maryland reduced a 14-point deficit to three in the final minute. The inexperience that has shown itself in failed comebacks late in games did in the Terps again; Duke guard J.J. Redick stripped Maryland’s D.J. Strawberry of the ball on a potential game-tying possession.

“There was a play [earlier] where I just got called for a foul, and then I reached down and got all ball,” Redick said of Strawberry’s turnover. “The ref didn’t make a call. At the time, I was falling out of bounds when [Duke’s Chris Duhon] grabbed the ball. It was just a good play at the end.”

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