- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. — To a man, Maryland’s basketball players preached the importance of having fun after their victory over Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC tournament on Thursday.

That proved a difficult task in last night’s quarterfinal, nearly as trying as simply attempting to stop a Boston College team eager to avenge an early-season loss to the Terrapins.

The third-seeded Eagles coasted to an 80-66 victory in the last of four games at the Greensboro Coliseum yesterday to leave the Terps squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble going into tomorrow’s announcement of the 65-team field.

“I’m not sure where we stand, but I know this team and we battled through a lot,” junior guard D.J. Strawberry said. “We worked hard and we put ourselves in a great position to be in consideration for the NCAA tournament. Hopefully we get in. We’ve played our hearts out.”

It was a dramatic turnaround for Maryland (19-12) after an impressive victory in Thursday’s opening round over Georgia Tech. The Terps looked as efficient as they had in months in picking up their third straight victory, and seemed ready to challenge a team that had waited nearly three days in Greensboro to play its first ever ACC tournament game.

Instead, the Eagles (25-6) bolted to a 19-2 lead behind Craig Smith (21 points) and Jared Dudley (18) and consistently stifled the beleaguered Terps’ offense.

James Gist led Maryland with 14 points.

Terps forward Nik Caner-Medley was injured in a collision with 15:42 remaining. He hobbled off first to the sideline and then to the locker room. He eventually took a seat on the Maryland bench but did not return, finishing with six points and five rebounds.

“I’ve lost games before, and I don’t like losing when we don’t put our best show out there in the way we can play,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “That hurts a little bit.”

The Terps continued to receive help from elsewhere in the country as both Colorado’s and Houston’s at-large hopes all but ended with losses and Bucknell won the Patriot League title to avoid being added to the bubble discussion. Those results came a day after bubble dwellers Air Force, Brigham Young, Florida State and Michigan all absorbed critical defeats.

Yet the loss to the Eagles left Maryland without a victory over a team currently in the top 50 of the RPI since the calendar turned to 2006. The Terps have only two for the season (Arkansas and Boston College) and none since guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible Jan. 23.

The Terps, who fell to 6-8 without McCray, must rely on a resume that features a strong schedule (No. 12 nationally entering yesterday), no eye-popping losses (the Terps are 17-4 against non-top 50 teams) and a bubble-worthy RPI of 44.

There also is the historical trend of ACC teams that go .500 in league play almost always earning an NCAA berth. Only six ACC teams with .500 or better conference records have missed the NCAA tournament since 1980, and none of them won an ACC tournament game as the Terps did with their 82-64 rout of reeling Georgia Tech.

“We had a lot of momentum and a lot of emotional highs the last couple weeks,” Caner- Medley said. “I think they had more in their tanks tonight. We seemed a little more down than them. In some cases, having a bye helps you.”

The teams had not met since Dec. 11 in Boston College’s first conference game as an ACC member. The Eagles were without shotblocker supreme Sean Williams (suspension) that night, and their depth issues were evident as the Terps escaped with a 73-71 victory.

The Eagles jawed earlier in the week they much rather would face Maryland than Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals, and at no point did it appear to be an ill-advised wish.

Maryland wore black jerseys for the first time all season, but they did little to spark a team that had been so lackluster in their red road unis throughout the year. Vexed by his team’s play, Williams discarded his jacket early on and prowled the sideline without it for the remainder of the first half.

The Terps, who shot a sizzling 51.9 percent Thursday night, managed a 24.1 percentage in the first half and 34.8 percent for the game.

Maryland’s frontcourt rotation of Will Bowers, Travis Garrison, James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe, which had been so vital both against the physical Eagles earlier in the season and during the Terps’ late-season charge, was virtually invisible in the first half. None of them scored until Gist’s three-point play with 2:42 left in the first half, which narrowed BC’s edge to 34-19.

It didn’t remain even that close. Tyrese Rice drilled a 3-pointer two possessions later and Smith soon added a one-handed jam in transition to make it 39-19 and prompt Williams to call his third timeout of the half.

“We’ve done some good things this year,” Williams said. “I don’t want to lose sight of that and I don’t want the players to lose sight of that. Obviously, right now we’re disappointed in how we played.”

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