- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

Forget the bubble.

Maryland’s chances for a 12th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance likely ended yesterday when Clemson beat Maryland for the third time this season 84-72 in the ACC tournament’s opening round at MCI Center.

The Terps were the first team eliminated in front of their hometown crowd, and the early ouster probably cost Maryland any chance at a long-shot NCAA bid. The Terps won’t know their fate until the NCAA selection committee meets Sunday, but Maryland is prepared to hear from the NIT.

“Everyone’s really anxious,” forward Travis Garrison said. “I really want to make it [the NCAA]. I don’t want to be part of the team that is a disappointment to Maryland. It’s up to the selection committee to give us a chance, and I just pray that we make it.”

Coach Gary Williams said he would accept an NIT bid if the NCAA bypasses the Terps. Maryland (16-12) probably would play host to a first-round game at Comcast Center.

“I’d like to go to our 12th straight [NCAA, but] you earn your way on the court, and whatever happens is fine,” Williams said. “If we’re part of [the NIT], we’re part of it. It’s always a chance to play more games.”

The Terps lost their fourth straight despite jumping to an early 10-point lead. Clemson pulled away early in the second half to leave Maryland acknowledging a season that once seemed so promising now relies upon the charity of the selection committee.

“We had our fate in our own hands, but we lost it,” guard Chris McCray said. “Hopefully, we have enough good wins, so I’m still positive.”

Added point guard John Gilchrist: “We felt we let the university down, our coaches, staff, our fans, but we’re still growing. People get better. You can’t look at this like it’s the end of the road. We’re definitely going to be back.”

Clemson (16-14) felt slighted by linesmakers as the underdog despite being the lower seed. After all, the Tigers trailed the Terps only for a combined 11 seconds in their two previous wins. Even after yesterday’s game, Clemson guard Shawan Robinson felt overlooked by Maryland.

“If they don’t respect us after three times, I don’t know what we would have to do to get their respect,” he said.

Clemson doesn’t fear facing top-seeded North Carolina today despite having never beaten the Tar Heels away from its home court. Clemson recently lost its 51st straight in Chapel Hill. However, the Tigers felt invincible after winning their first ACC tournament game in four years.

“We have a feeling we can beat anybody,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “We have an opportunity to bring it all together here.”

Said Tigers forward James Mays: “Now somebody is going to have to give us some respect for [today’s] game.”

Maryland was bedeviled by injuries once more. Freshman forward James Gist didn’t play because of a bruised knee, and Gilchrist left with Maryland trailing 51-42 and 13:23 left after spraining his left ankle in the first half.

Gilchrist later said he hasn’t decided whether to forgo his senior season. Balancing family needs versus his obligation to the Terps will weigh heavily in his decision.

“Whatever’s the best opportunity for my family,” said Gilchrist, who just one year ago was named tournament MVP as the Terps cut down the nets in Greensboro, N.C. “I feel I owe a lot to this university and coaching staff. That’s what it’s all going to boil down to.”

McCray led Maryland with 24 points, including 12 before the first timeout. Forward Nik Caner-Medley scored 14 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Center Will Bowers added a career-high 10 points.

Robinson’s 24 points topped Clemson, with guard Cliff Hammonds adding 14 and forward Olu Babalola 11. The Tigers converted 53.6 percent from the field in the first half and 47.5 percent overall.

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