- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Maryland hopes its ultimate destination is the NCAA tournament, and it needs some success on the road in the next few weeks to get there.

The Terrapins (15-8, 5-5 ACC) play four of their last six games on the road, beginning with tonight’s trip to Clemson (14-10, 3-8). Visits to Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia also remain.

Yet wins away from Comcast Center have been rare for the Terps. Maryland is 1-4 in true road games, picking up a victory at Georgia Tech late last month. The Terps also defeated Arkansas on a neutral court in November.

“We’re like a lot of teams this year on the road, and hopefully we’ll have a good performance,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday. “A lot of that comes from your defense. You can’t get into a scoring contest on the road and expect to win very often. Most teams play better offensively at home.”

That was the case in a loss at Temple on Jan. 28, when the Owls established a season-high scoring total en route to their 91-85 win. Maryland also played N.C. State tough in Raleigh last week before falling 62-58.

Both losses — and the lone road win — came without guard Chris McCray, who was declared academically ineligible Jan.23. Maryland was 13-4 at the time of McCray’s suspension and is 2-4 in the three weeks since.

“They have plenty of road chances, but there’s no reason to think they’re suddenly going to become a good road team without their best player,” said Joe Lunardi, who projects the tournament field for espn.com and dropped Maryland out of his bracket this week for the first time all season. “No one would bet on it unless you’re a blinded Terrapin fan.”

Maryland’s RPI has sunk to 41 according to collegerpi.com, and it still must contend with the perception it is a far different team without McCray. Lunardi said the tournament selection committee will have to place greater weight on the resume Maryland produces without McCray.

That problem can be solved only with a strong finish, one that probably would include two or three wins on the road or in next month’s ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

“Obviously, if they don’t win on the road, they’re pretty well dead,” said Jerry Palm, who operates collegerpi.com. “They might have to win more than one of them. Part of Maryland’s problem is what little good they did was before McCray went out. The Boston College win, the Arkansas win, Minnesota, that’s three of their four top-100 wins all before McCray went out.”

One thing working in Maryland’s favor is it hasn’t suffered any egregious losses. Five of the Terps’ remaining games are against current top-100 teams, at least giving them the opportunity to collect some solid victories.

“We’ve been in this situation before where you have to win some games,” Williams said. “You want to have a chance, and we have a chance, so that’s the big thing. You have to play well, and you should have to play well.”

The next three games could provide Maryland its needed springboard. Clemson, Georgia Tech (which visits Comcast Center Saturday) and Florida State all are in the bottom half of the ACC standings, and a strong run would boost the Terps’ tournament hopes in what both Lunardi and Palm agree is a down year across the country.

Of course, earning those victories is another matter.

“They haven’t even proved they’re competent [without McCray] …,” said Palm, who nevertheless included Maryland as a No.11 seed in a bracket projection released yesterday. “They just have to prove they can beat anybody. If they don’t win on the road, they can forget about it.”

Note — Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said guard Vernon Hamilton was “doubtful” for tonight’s game because of elbow and thumb injuries suffered in Saturday’s loss at Boston College. Hamilton, who did not practice Sunday and was not expected to practice yesterday, leads the Tigers in scoring with 12.3 points a game.

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