- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Handling success has been No. 22 Maryland’s biggest challenge this season. The Terrapins would like to prove they can follow up a marquee win with a rewarding road trip.

Maryland (15-7, 6-5 ACC) visits N.C. State (14-10, 4-7) tonight at RBC Center after defeating No. 7 Duke 99-92 in overtime at home Saturday night. If they play at the level they did in completing a regular-season sweep of the Blue Devils, the Terps are primed for a season-ending run that could land them a high seed in the NCAA tournament. Then again, they have stumbled all season after winning big games.

Maryland followed consecutive victories over then-No. 2 Duke in Durham, N.C., and then-No. 22 Georgia Tech last month with embarrassing losses at Clemson and Miami. Three of the Terps’ final five regular-season games will be on the road. With trips to N.C. State and then Virginia on Saturday, Maryland is in search of consistency away from Comcast Center. After all, the Terps are 1-5 on the road and haven’t won three straight conference games.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re gradually seeing what it takes to be a good team,” said coach Gary Williams, whose team also beat Virginia Tech at home last week. “We’re 22nd in the country. A lot of teams have had their ups and downs, and they’re 90th. I like where we are right now.”

Maryland comes off perhaps the most exciting game in three seasons at Comcast Center. Six Terps scored in double figures as Maryland swept Duke for the first time in 10 years, while guard John Gilchrist was one assist short of a triple-double. Fans swarmed the floor after an emotional evening; adrenaline fueled postgame talk of the possibility of a run at a second straight ACC tournament title.



Four days later, Williams worries that emotional surge might leave the Terps flat again. The players admitted to a letdown against Clemson. Another dropoff might mean a second loss to N.C. State, which led 53-27 at halftime en route to a 85-69 victory Jan. 23 at Comcast.

Beating Duke a second time was important, but Williams doesn’t want it to be the season’s defining moment. Too many important games remain, and Maryland could use a couple of more wins to secure its 12th straight NCAA tournament invitation.

“The big thing is to put that type of emotion in every game,” Williams said. “If you can come out with that intensity level, you’ll be there. If you can’t this time of year, you’re in trouble.”

Maryland might switch to a smaller lineup to counter N.C. State’s quickness. The Terps permitted too many open 3-pointers in the first meeting. The Wolfpack hit 12 shots from outside the arc, including eight before halftime.

Forward Ekene Ibekwe remains hampered by a cracked rib, but he managed to get 11 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes against Duke. Maryland could move small forward Nik Caner-Medley to power forward and Travis Garrison to the post and play three guards. Caner-Medley has thrived on the offensive boards ” he leads the team with 48 ” and has emerged as the Terps’ leading scorer (16.5 points). Garrison seems to have regained his aggressiveness after posting 17 points, 11 rebounds and four steals against Duke.

The decisive matchup might come in the backcourt, though. Rotating guards Sterling Ledbetter and Mike Jones alongside Chris McCray and Gilchrist could thwart N.C. State’s fluid offense, which thrives on ballhandling. Wolfpack guard Engin Atsur doubled his scoring average with 17 points, including five 3-pointers, in the first matchup. Forward Julius Hodge finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds as four N.C. State players scored at least 12. Guard Tony Bethel, who made the game-winning shot against Georgia Tech on Sunday, missed the first Maryland game because of colitis.

“We’ve changed our starting lineup a lot more this year than we ever have depending on who we’re playing.” Williams said. “That comes into play now with the type of people the other team starts. … [N.C. State] can run the clock and is not afraid to take a shot as the shot clock winds down.”

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