- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

It would appear to be a sensible time for Maryland’s men’s basketball team to begin dreaming of the postseason, an NCAA tournament assured for a group left for dead nearly a month ago.

Then again, the way the Terrapins scrambled to create a six-game winning streak featuring a sweep of Duke and a victory over North Carolina should prevent them from thinking too far beyond tomorrow’s regular-season finale against N.C. State at Comcast Center.

It’s hard to fathom how the No. 24 Terps (23-7, 9-6 ACC) didn’t flinch after they stumbled to a 2-5 start in league play, then split the next two games to remain in a seemingly insurmountable crevice. But Wednesday’s 85-77 victory at No. 14 Duke assured Maryland of a winning conference record, an unprecedented charge from a slow start in ACC history.

“The past couple weeks, we’ve done an excellent job of preparing for games and not really worrying about two games ahead but worrying about the next game,” senior guard Mike Jones said after a 25-point outing. “In the past, we had guys who did that. This year, we’re mature and understand the situation of one-game-at-a-time and then you worry about the next game.”

Indeed, one of the reasons Maryland’s comeback seems so unlikely is precisely because of how its two immediate predecessors fared. Both coped with the burden of unmet expectations, a schism that resulted in unfulfilling NIT berths in both seasons.

This group seemed prepared to take the same path, only to veer off to a more fruitful one after a lackluster loss Feb. 6 to Virginia during which the Terps played 10 strong minutes at the end in an aborted comeback.

“What I’ve tried to do over the years is coach the team to be the best it can be,” coach Gary Williams said. “I don’t put a number on that, I don’t say a team should have 25 wins. It’s just how good you can get. That’s what I try to do and I think these guys have bought into it really well this year.”

As a byproduct of adhering to Williams’ principles, the Terps are suddenly the ACC’s most unflappable bunch. They withstood a pair of double-digit deficits against North Carolina on Sunday, and then turned back Duke after the Blue Devils rallied from a 12-point hole to tie in the second half on Wednesday.

Maryland presented a businesslike approach throughout the night other than a few exceptions. The Terps’ array of well-earned dunks provoked only a handful of emotional displays, and players possessed a been there, done-that attitude while celebrating the victory like any other.

Greivis Vasquez’s usual animated play led to only a few outbursts, perhaps the confluence of a cold, a particularly dialed-in outing and some friendly advice from a teammate. He still stared down the Cameron crowd after drilling two 3-pointers late in the first half as part of his near triple-double (13 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds).

” ‘Greivis, I know you like to showboat and stuff, but don’t get caught up with the fans,’ ” forward James Gist recounted telling Vasquez during warmups. “Let’s just play the game and we’re going to win as long as we play our roles.”

Maryland could win quite a few more games with its balanced approach. The Terps are assured of at least the No. 5 seed in next week’s ACC tournament, and their late surge has vaulted them into consideration for a top-four NCAA seed.

Vasquez blurted after the game there were still some people who didn’t believe the Terps were all that good. The last month has certainly made that pool much smaller.

“Maryland is playing lights-out basketball,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’re really good. They played as well against us [Wednesday] as anybody has played against us all year. I think they could go against anybody.”

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