- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The NCAA tournament bid didn’t come. Two starters are hurt and the team’s pride is bruised, but Maryland’s season isn’t over.

The Terrapins meet Oral Roberts tonight in an NIT first-round game at Comcast Center. After reaching 11 straight NCAA tournaments, Maryland returns to the modest invitational for the first time since 1990 trying to restore its reputation.

If Maryland (16-12) can’t muster any more emotion than it managed during four straight losses, the Golden Eagles (25-7) are capable of an upset.

Maryland coach Gary Williams said two types of teams play in the NIT — those eager to prove themselves and those sorry to be included. Certainly, Oral Roberts is among the former, making its first postseason appearance since 1997. Conversely, the Terps might have a letdown following an opening-round exit in the ACC tournament.

“You can always have an excuse if you want to, but you’re playing a basketball game against a quality opponent, so the players are aware of that,” Williams said. “It’s time to play again.”

After two months of pressure-packed ACC games, Maryland will play the team from Tulsa, Okla., for the first time. Since beating Duke on Feb. 12, the Terps have lost three straight at Comcast — to N.C. State, Clemson and North Carolina.

“A lot of fans are probably disappointed in the effort given on some nights,” forward Travis Garrison said.

Then again, maybe the pressure is off for Maryland.

“This is not going to do anything but make us stronger,” guard John Gilchrist said.

Said forward Nik Caner-Medley: “I’m motivated every time I play in a pickup game.”

The NIT certainly gave Maryland a favorable draw to reach the semifinals at Madison Square Garden on March 29. To reach New York, the Terps might get to play three straight games at home if schedule conflicts with the women’s NCAA tournament can be resolved.

Maryland’s bracket looks the easiest with Virginia Commonwealth (19-12) or Davidson (21-8) as a possible second-round opponent and Western Michigan (20-12), Texas Christian (19-13) or Miami of Ohio (19-10) a third-round foe.

The Terrapins would not have to face Georgetown (17-12) until the semifinals, while nemesis Clemson (16-15) and Maryland each would have to win four straight games to meet in the final.

Notes — Forward James Gist (bruised knee) is doubtful while Gilchrist (sprained ankle) is questionable. … Maryland donated 4,000 tickets to students. … When Maryland reached the NIT in 1990, Williams became the first coach in the program’s history to lead his first team to a postseason tournament. Those Terps beat Massachusetts at home before losing at Penn State.

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