- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Parrish Brown dutifully recited the tried and true one-game-at-a-time mantra after Maryland’s 89-87 upset of No. 5 North Carolina on Sunday, demurring on any extended thoughts about the NCAA tournament.

But was he willing to concede there was an increasing level of comfort knowing the Terrapins (22-7, 8-6 ACC) would be back there next month after a two-year hiatus?

“Yeah,” Brown said as he broke into a wide grin.

The immediate effect of the Terps’ signature victory was a frothing frenzy of students storming onto the Comcast Center floor and coach Gary Williams getting choked up over both the win and the bedlam set off by Maryland’s fifth straight victory.

The lasting statement for the Terps, who jumped into the Associated Press poll at No. 24, was one of finally retiring the criticism showered upon them as they scuffled through January with little stability in performance.

Maryland sunk to 1-4, then 2-5, then 3-6 in the conference, all holes no ACC team had recovered from to finish better than .500 in league play. Only four had dug out from a 2-5 deficit to reach the NCAA tournament, including just one (2004 Maryland) in the last 20 years.

Williams nevertheless remained positive throughout the rough stretch, firmly saying after an overtime loss at Virginia Tech last month if the Terps played as they had that night they would be fine. It seemed an odd time to take such a stand, but the approach served him well with his players.

“Since we were down 2-5 early in the conference, coach kept telling us about his past teams that went down and lost games,” Brown said. “He was saying we were a good team and we just have to stay positive. We kept pushing ourselves to be as a good as we can.”

None of Williams’ teams best represented that resilience like the 2001 group that began the season with five starters returning, viable Final Four hopes and a preseason No. 5 ranking. But things unraveled when Maryland squandered a 10-point lead with 54 seconds left against Duke, precipitating a 1-5 spiral that included a home loss to Florida State.

The Terps then pounded a ranked Wake Forest squad on the road in mid-February, setting off a six-game winning streak (including a victory at Duke much like Sunday’s against North Carolina) to set up the school’s first Final Four run. Williams drew solace last month from that season, and the parallels between the two are increasingly similar.

“That team did a very good job of not looking ahead or wishing there would be an easy game there,” Williams said. “We had to go win a very tough game. This team might have done the same thing. You can’t wait for someone to help you. You have to go help yourself.”

Maryland’s surge began Feb. 11 against Duke, and the Terps visit the No. 14 Blue Devils (22-7, 8-6) tomorrow before finishing the regular season at home Saturday against N.C. State.

To maintain the comparison with their accomplished predecessors, the Terps will need to finish strong even after their most impressive victory of the year.

“I think this is a little validation, but we still have to work hard, and we still want to win these next two games,” freshman point guard Eric Hayes said.

Perhaps there’s more validation for Williams, who insisted he needed nothing of the sort. But Maryland will enter March as a sure-fire NCAA tournament team for the first time since 2003, a significant accomplishment for a program relegated to consecutive NIT appearances the last two years.

“That’s part of the deal I guess after you’ve won a national championship, that you’re supposed to be at that level every year,” Williams said. “When you’re not, you get criticized. That’s OK. For loyal Maryland fans, this is our team. We’re going to be good, we’re going to be good in the future and we plan on being around for a long time.”

Note — D.J. Strawberry, who averaged 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in victories over Florida State and North Carolina, was named the ACC’s player of the week for the second straight time.

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