- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

The Maryland basketball team still hoped to be playing this weekend when the season started nearly four months ago.

Of course, the Terrapins figured they would be playing in the NCAA tournament. Instead, Maryland welcomes Manhattan to Comcast Center today for a rare morning start in the first round of the NIT.

The Terps (19-12) are in the NIT for the second straight season after reaching the NCAA tournament for 11 consecutive years. Maryland coach Gary Williams initially declined an NIT berth before later accepting it Sunday, leaving many to wonder how much the Terps really want to be in this tournament.

“Every team that goes into the NIT has different feelings,” Williams said. “Some teams are really excited about being in the NIT. Some need to get over disappointment of the regular season. It doesn’t matter. This is a long time from last Sunday. When it comes time to play, you have to put it out there. …

“I’m sure guys are disappointed. I’m disappointed, but that doesn’t affect the way I coach or hopefully the way we play.”

Maryland had hoped winning three of its last four games would persuade the NCAA selection committee to include the Terps in the 65-team field. The Terps had a strong schedule to their credit but also an ugly loss to Boston College in the ACC quarterfinals and no top-50 victories since Dec. 11.

Ultimately, Maryland wasn’t even mentioned among the most egregious tournament omissions this week and instead settled for an NIT berth.

“Obviously, the day of the selection show and the day after we were really disappointed,” junior center Will Bowers said. “Since then, once we got back on the court and practicing, it’s been different. As long as we’re in the NIT, we’re going to play to win and play as hard as we can.”

So will the Jaspers (19-10), who are making their fourth postseason appearance in the last five years. Manhattan stunned fourth-seeded Florida in the 2004 NCAA tournament behind future NBA player Luis Flores and won its first NIT game since 1992 when it defeated visiting Fairleigh Dickinson on Tuesday.

“It’s a team that’s used to being in postseason tournaments, whether it’s the NIT or the NCAA,” Williams said. “It’s not like this something new for them. I’m sure we’ll get their best shot.”

The Terps will try to give theirs as well as they attempt to reach the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden for the second straight season. A return trip would help alleviate at least some of the disappointment of another missed NCAA berth.

“As a basketball player, it’s your job to get yourself as hyped up for this as you would for the NCAA tournament,” Bowers said. “I think we’re at that point now.”

Notes — Williams said senior Nik Caner-Medley, who sprained his right ankle in the second half against Boston College and sat out the last 15 minutes of that game, is fine and is expected to start. … If the Terps win today, they will play host to Old Dominion (22-9) in the second round Monday. The Monarchs defeated Colorado 79-61 on Wednesday.

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