- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

A soft remaining schedule still could propel No.22 Maryland to its 12th straight NCAA tournament ” if, that is, the Terrapins can shake their inexplicable inconsistency.

Maryland (15-8, 6-6 ACC) visits Virginia (13-10, 4-8) tomorrow before home games against Clemson (12-12, 2-9) on Tuesday and No.4 North Carolina (21-3, 9-2) on Feb.27. The Terps then end the season at Virginia Tech (13-10, 4-8). Maryland needs two wins to virtually seal a tournament bid and is 2-2 against its final four opponents this season.

Two victories also would likely keep Maryland idle on the first day of the ACC tournament at MCI Center. No team has won four games in the conference tournament, and the defending champion Terps likely will secure a top-five seed and avoid the opening round with an 8-8 conference record.

Maryland has the tiebreaker over Georgia Tech (14-8, 5-6) but not against Miami (15-8, 6-6) or N.C. State (15-10, 5-7). Those four teams are in the hunt for the fourth and fifth seeds in the ACC tournament.

To get to 8-8, Maryland probably will need to win once on the road, where the Terps are an ACC-worst 1-6 after Wednesday night’s 82-63 loss at N.C. State. And despite its two close victories against Duke, Maryland’s ability to handle pressure remains questionable. The Terps lack chemistry and steadiness and sometimes appear helpless to stop streaking opponents although most of the team has played together for nearly two seasons.

Coach Gary Williams openly questioned his players’ commitment following the season’s second blowout loss to N.C. State. The loss denied the Terps, who appeared flat after Saturday’s emotional defeat of Duke, their first three-game conference winning streak in two years.

“We came in here feeling pretty good about ourselves, and [N.C. State] made us pay for it,” Williams said. “You get a win like that against Duke, you have to use it to springboard into the next game, and we didn’t do it. … It’s a game we thought we could win.

“I knew this would be a tough game, but obviously I couldn’t get that through to the players. We weren’t working hard enough. You pay a price in this league if you don’t give it all every night. … This is on the players. I worked hard to get ready for this game. It’s very frustrating. My teams don’t play like this.”

Williams’ unusually long postgame talk left the locker room silent. Players knew they blew another chance to control their postseason fate. Shaking off big wins has been as hard as forgetting upset losses; Maryland is 1-3 after beating ranked teams.

“Sometimes coming off a real emotional win like [Duke] is draining,” guard John Gilchrist said. “We have to somehow find our energy each and every game.”

Maryland’s inconsistency proved widespread Wednesday. The Terps shot a season-low 36.8 percent, and forward Nik Caner-Medley scored only two of his game-high 19 points in the second half. Gilchrist went from a near triple-double against Duke to seven points, two assists and no rebounds against N.C. State. Forwards Ekene Ibekwe and Travis Garrison combined for 15 points and nine rebounds after 28 points and 16 rebounds against Duke.

The defense also suffered another meltdown. N.C. State not only made 13 3-pointers but managed 22 assists on its 25 baskets. The Wolfpack sliced through Maryland’s man defense before the Terps finally resorted to a zone late in the first half to prevent a runaway. Five N.C. State players managed at least nine points and four rebounds as Maryland was outrebounded (39-33) for only the fourth time this season.

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