- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

NIT?

That ugly basketball acronym hangs over Maryland’s wildly inconsistent team. The Terrapins are reeling again with two regular-season games remaining, in clear danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years.

Maryland (16-9, 7-7 ACC) is in big trouble after a series of embarrassing recent losses. Clemson (13-12, 3-10) completed a regular-season sweep of the Terps with a 97-93 victory Tuesday night at Comcast Center, and N.C. State (15-11, 5-8) crushed Maryland twice. That means two of the ACC’s worst four teams whipped the Terps by an average margin of 13.5 points.

Getting an eighth conference victory — which would make an NCAA bid probable — could prove difficult. No.2 North Carolina (23-3, 11-2), which thumped Maryland 109-75 on Jan.8, visits Comcast on Sunday. The Terps then travel to Virginia Tech (14-10, 7-6) on March5 needing to overcome a 2-6 road record against the surprisingly tough Hokies, who also will be looking to impress the NCAA selection committee.

Maryland is about out of second chances. Unless the Terps rebound either against a highly ranked team or on the road, they probably will land in the ACC tournament’s opening round and need two victories to merit an NCAA bid.



Last season Maryland reached the NCAAs by winning the ACC tournament after going 7-9 in league play, but such an achievement appears unlikely this time.

“[Losing to Clemson] definitely hurts,” guard Chris McCray said. “If we had won this game, we would have been a lock for the NCAA tournament, but maybe this team plays the best with our backs to the wall.”

Gary Williams calls the Terps’ inconsistency the worst in his 37 years of coaching. The defense has been awful, especially outside. Clemson converted 58 percent from the field and scored its most points ever in an ACC regulation road game. Maryland often has opened games flat-footed and unable to stop opposing runs. Case in point: Clemson led 16-4 before the Terps found any offensive rhythm Tuesday.

“[It’s a case of] X’s and O’s, dropping balls, not getting rebounds, giving up seconds shots — all the stuff that’s at every level, whether it’s a pickup game outside or playing in the NBA,” Williams said. “Those things have to be [fixed] before we start to do anything else. We didn’t do too much of those kind of things — the grunt stuff, the toughness on the glass, not letting them penetrate.”

The Terps’ confidence seems broken. Players who once swayed during the national anthem now stare blankly during the song. There’s so little passion the game appears to be a chore instead of fun.

“There’s a swagger winning teams have,” guard John Gilchrist said. “We’re still searching for our identity.”

The Terps beat archrival Duke twice for the first time in 10 years but clearly let down against teams below them in the standings. That immaturity is remarkable considering four juniors with plenty of experience get a lot of the playing time.

“One thing this team hasn’t done is bounce off a big win and get another big win,” forward Nik Caner-Medley said.

Now the Terps simply must get one more win. Otherwise, the NIT is a clear possibility.

“I don’t worry about that,” Williams said. “I worry about the next game. Everybody has a margin of error. You just try to win games.”

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