- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Maryland basketball team probably didn’t think things could disintegrate any more after a 41-point loss at Duke on Saturday.

And somehow they did Tuesday at Comcast Center.

Rather than sleepwalking through another game, the Terrapins showed up for 20 minutes before returning to their well-rehearsed folly of giving away a substantial edge in the second half.

There was the Maryland formula on display yet again: Build an early lead, nurse it for a while, watch an opponent erode it and finally either hold on for a needlessly close victory or succumb in the closing minutes for an entirely befuddling loss.

On Tuesday night, it was the latter in spectacular fashion as Boston College departed Comcast Center with a 76-67 victory despite trailing by 16 points late in the first half.

Coach Gary Williams pointed to defense. His players bemoaned their lack of communication. Either way, for the third time this month Maryland fell despite holding a double-digit lead in the second half.

“If I knew why it happened, I’d find a way to fix it,” said Williams, whose team permitted the Eagles to make 15 of 25 second-half shots. “The one thing defense always gives you is a way to stop the other team. We are in front of the bench. In the second half, we don’t play as good a defense. I wish I knew the answer to that.”

Answers are fleeting for the Terps (13-7, 2-4 ACC), who in recent years at least have made it a habit to keep their NCAA tournament hopes flickering well into February.

Continuing to give away games - despite 18 points from Greivis Vasquez and 14 from Landon Milbourne - only leads to defeats more stinging than the weekend’s Duke debacle.

And sting it did, for more than simply incurring a home conference loss for the first time this season. The result was yet another lead frittered away against a comparable or worse opponent - the sort Maryland simply cannot give away in a season when its talent deficit is larger than it has been in recent years.

It happened against Morgan State and at Miami and nearly occurred against Virginia last week.

And now it has unfolded against the Eagles (16-6, 4-3), a solid team but certainly a beatable one on a night senior guard Tyrese Rice was held to 10 points.

“Of course [it hurts more],” guard Adrian Bowie said. “We were up [16] in the first half, and it’s hard to lose a game at home, especially with a lead like that in the first half.”

Unlike other collapses, the Terps didn’t wait until the closing seconds for an opponent to lap them. Boston College took its first lead with seven minutes to play and seemed the more stable team even after Bowie pulled Maryland within 64-63 with 2:54 left.

The certainty stemmed from the ease with which Boston College scored throughout the second half, especially in the closing minutes.

First, it was Rakim Sanders’ tip-in as the shot clock wound down. Then it was Joe Trapani’s effortless lay-in with 1:43 remaining to make it 68-63.

That was more than enough for Williams to demand emphatically that Bowie bring the ball within inches of the bench before finally calling a timeout. But the Terps proved far better at finding the sideline than the basket, enduring a 10-0 run before Bowie’s late layup prompted a derisive cheer from a small part of the remnants of the student section.

“A lot of it is just aggressiveness,” Williams said. “You have stay aggressive for 40 minutes. You can’t play like you’re up 15.”

As Maryland knows all too well, those leads don’t last - as both last year’s late-season train wreck and this month’s problem affirm.

Williams could dismiss Saturday’s loss as a blip, a catastrophic loss that is also a rare occurrence. On Tuesday night, however, there could be no such spin after another patented Maryland meltdown.

“We did a great job of coming back from the Duke game for the first 20 minutes,” Williams said. “We couldn’t do it for 40. We prepared very well tonight, and I was proud of the way the team played the first 20 minutes. They just couldn’t do it for the next 20.”

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