- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

Fear a college basketball game that bleeds 40 turnovers, one a minute.

Fear a game that results in an eye-glazing 16 free throw attempts in the last 1:54, with the outcome no longer in doubt.

Maryland’s Terrapins fouled to the mind-numbing end, including with 2.9 seconds left, either to prolong their last meaningful engagement of a forgettable season or to place the name of walk-on Gini Chukura in the box score.

Theirs was a fitting performance, this modest pairing of the No. 8 Terps and the No. 9 Clemson Tigers in the first round of the ACC tournament on Fun Street, a veritable yippee kiyo and Chukura, too.

It was about the Terps being on the bubble of the bubble of the NCAA tournament, if that. It was mostly about the nothingness of the NIT, as the Tigers defeated the Terps 84-72.

Someone seemingly serious questioned coach Gary Williams anew on the NCAA tournament bubble prospects of the Terrapins, perhaps to take the temperature of the cantankerous one in a rumpled suit.

Williams lacked the wherewithal to measure the intelligence of the media, self-defeating as that usually is. The last word inevitably goes to those who buy their ink by the barrel.

“Wherever we are, we are,” Williams says, which is to say the Terps are up Route 1 without a fire extinguisher.

There was no burning on Route 1 on this day. There was no striking of a match in celebration, no madcap jubilation that led to arrests, no talk of anything, really, except the sinking acknowledgement that the Tigers are a considerably stronger team than the Terps and the sentence of the NIT is beckoning.

It was the Tigers’ third victory of the season over the Terps — home and away, plus one within a stone’s throw of the regional sports channel house.

Tigers coach Oliver Purnell ignored the redundancy of the point, as only someone in charge of a program in doubt could.

“Our guys showed, clearly, that they were the best team,” Purnell said, which is only one nebulous alteration in the ACC pecking order.

Whether No. 8 or No. 9, who feels inclined to argue?

Williams was feisty to the end and stuck seldom-used Mike Grinnon on the postgame podium to deliver the message, intended or not, to the long faces in the locker room.

Before addressing his team’s lack of fight on defense, Williams launched into a soliloquy attesting to the character and tenacity of Grinnon, who left most of it on a practice floor in four seasons, whatever it was worth.

To Williams, it was worth the gesture, given the choices in the locker room. The Terps failed to shoot the ball with accuracy, elected to play defense in spurts and treated the ball carelessly. So they hung around for about 30 minutes.

Nik Caner-Medley, the team’s leading scorer, and John Gilchrist, the former NBA lottery pick, combined to go 2-for-14 shooting in the first 20 minutes. At least Gilchrist had plausible justification. He sprained his left ankle in the first half and was limited to one minute in the second half after the joint stiffened at halftime.

“Good teams overcome injuries,” said Williams, which is the rub.

The Terps are not a quality team, not even on a level with the football-only schools of Virginia Tech and Miami — a precipitous drop after 11 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Williams bristled around the observation of the Terps being eliminated from the backyard tournament before it was barely under way.

He put up his 60-year-old dukes, figuratively, and trumpeted the ACC championship of the Terps in Greensboro, N.C., last season.

But that is so 2004, and this is 2005, a 16-12 indictment that left so many in red flustered.

The Terps returned everyone but Jamar Smith from a team that was a 3-pointer away against Syracuse from going to the Sweet Sixteen last season.

Now they are the patsies of the Tigers.

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