- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Maryland’s road woes continued in a critical bubble battle last night at Florida State.

The Terrapins encountered extensive first-half foul trouble to go along with a typical slow start against the Seminoles, stumbling to a 71-60 loss at Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center in a game both teams needed to bolster their shaky NCAA tournament resumes.

It was the sixth loss in eight games for Maryland (16-10, 6-7 ACC), which sank to eighth place in the conference.

“I was disappointed in the way we executed our offense,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “This time of year, you’d like to think you could do the same kind of thing on the road as you do at home, but we haven’t done that yet.”

Al Thornton had 27 points and 12 rebounds for the Seminoles (17-7, 7-6), who have won seven league games for the first time since 1992-93 and inched closer to securing their first NCAA berth since 1998.

In a scene that has become routine, the morose Terps shuffled out of a quiet locker room for a late-night flight back to College Park, left attempting to determine how to salvage a year with three regular-season games and the ACC tournament remaining.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” said senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who scored a team-high 19 points. “It’s got to happen fast, and it’s got to be hard work, and it has to be us staying together as a team. The margin of error and time is decreasing quickly.”

The Terps fell behind early, as is their wont. Yet the night’s true harbinger of doom was the incessant parade to the free throw line, one that played to the deeper Seminoles’ favor even as they endured their share of foul trouble.

Sophomore James Gist was whistled twice in just more than three minutes and shuffled to the bench, where he remained for the rest of the half. Both Ekene Ibekwe and Mike Jones picked up three fouls, leaving Williams with virtually no flexibility in the personnel he could deploy in a game that was already slipping away.

The foul trouble became so severe that the Terps played out of a zone for the final five minutes of the first half, and Maryland had the better of play just before the break. Yet the Terps were still exhausted, in part because of a Florida State rotation that goes 10 deep and can withstand the loss of a player or two for extended periods.

“I don’t really want to talk about if they were right or not, but that really affected us,” Ibekwe said of the Terps’ foul trouble.

For all of its struggles — including an apparent Caner-Medley dunk that bounced out of the hoop — Maryland still held Florida State scoreless for more than six minutes and closed within six early in the second half. Alexander Johnson’s dunk bumped it back to eight, and junior guard D.J. Strawberry’s attempt to draw a charge on Thornton failed and wound up a three-point play.

Moments later, Thornton coasted in for a transition dunk to make it 46-33, further deflating the Terps and prompting Williams to burn a timeout. It hardly mattered, and the Terps never again cut the deficit to single digits.

Maryland, for all of its road woes, must win at least once away from Comcast Center to secure a .500 record in league play. The Terps sandwich trips to No. 21 North Carolina and Virginia around Wednesday’s home finale against Miami.

“I’m trying to win,” Strawberry said. “I’m playing my heart out, and I think the seniors feel the same way. There’s nothing we can do about this game. They beat us. We have to do it. Everybody’s counting us out. Until Selection Sunday, we’re really not out, but we have to do everything we can to pull out wins.”

With any perceived momentum from Saturday’s overtime defeat of Georgia Tech long since evaporated, the Terps have left themselves little room for error in the final week and a half of the regular season.

“We’ll find out what we’re made of,” Williams said. “If you’re a team, you have to believe you can win the last three. We’ll see.”

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