- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Beating No.15 Wake Forest in tomorrow’s ACC tournament opener probably isn’t needed for Maryland to reach the NCAA tournament. However, Terrapins center Hassan Fofana said losing to the Demon Deacons for the third time this season would be insulting.

“They can’t beat us three times in the same year,” he said. “That’s not going to happen. It’s a must win for our own pride. I take it very personal.”

The Terps (16-11, 7-9 ACC) haven’t won the ACC tournament since 1984, but this might be the league’s most open postseason affair in years.

While No.3 Duke (25-4, 13-3) is favored to win its sixth straight conference tournament at Greensboro Coliseum, a league hoping to send seven teams to the NCAA tournament isn’t short on contenders. The Terps are a long shot, but three victories in the last four games have Maryland suddenly ready for a March Madness experience that once seemed unlikely.

“We feel we have the confidence to win the tournament, not be happy to win one game,” forward Nik Caner-Medley said. “We feel we can beat anybody.”

Maryland has regained some of the early-season swagger that came when it was briefly ranked and beat No.1 Florida and No.15 Wisconsin. Although the Terps later lost six straight to ranked opponents, last week’s 70-69 upset of No.16 N.C. State largely assured an NCAA tournament berth. Maryland’s 28th RPI rating with the nation’s fifth hardest schedule should be enough for the Terps to reach their 11th straight NCAA tournament.

Guard Chris McCray finally is giving Maryland an outside threat after averaging 15.7 points the last three games. The Terps’ backcourt has carried the offense, with guard John Gilchrist averaging 18 points over the last four games to emerge as Maryland’s leading scorer (14.6). Center Jamar Smith also finished with two strong games after being blanked against Wake Forest (19-8, 9-7) on Feb.28.

Still, Maryland faces a tough assignment after losing to Wake Forest 93-84 on Jan.29 and 91-83 on Feb.28. Maryland’s aggressive defense couldn’t compensate for its inconsistent offense against a similar uptempo opponent. Yet, coach Gary Williams says he won’t greatly change strategy in the rematch.

“You have to worry about yourself, not how Wake Forest plays,” Williams said.

Wake Forest is second nationally in scoring (83.7) and leads the ACC in field goal percentage (47.3). Still, the Terps figure they’ve now seen the Demon Deacons enough to react better. After all, North Carolina upset Maryland in the ACC tournament opener last year after losing both earlier meetings.

“Maybe they think they’ve figured us out,” Caner-Medley said. “They know our stuff, and we know their stuff.”

Said Williams: “There’s no secrets. They’re not going to sneak a player in.”

Maryland’s nine underclassmen are no longer intimidated by ACC road games despite a 3-5 mark. However, Greensboro is located amid North Carolina’s four teams, and local fans often root for in-state teams against outsiders. Caner-Medley learned last season that there are few friendly fans there.

“It seemed like a North Carolina crowd,” he said. “It didn’t feel like a neutral site.”

Fofana hadn’t heard of Tobacco Road before this season. However, he quickly learned to hate Duke fans, whose chants included “Fee-fi-Fofana.” Now the freshman likes having all the conference’s fans in the stands together.

“They hate me, so now I have a reason to hate [them],” he said.

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