- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

The late-season paradox glaring at the Maryland basketball team Wednesday night was, as is the case with most such scenarios, both welcome and unsettling.

The Terrapins had just deflected foul trouble, a hobbled starter and a nasty prior engagement with Duke to play a top-10 team even for 34 minutes. But not six more.

They were less than an hour removed from nearly toppling their supporters’ greatest nemesis and putting on a performance that was far superior to their production in some of their wins - and all their losses.

And yet as a result, a loss in Sunday’s visit to N.C. State could reduce Maryland’s already-modest margin for error over the final two weeks of the season.

“Some of the games in the past, we could have won if we played as hard as we did against Duke,” guard Adrian Bowie said. “You have to think about that. But at the same time, you can’t worry about it too much.”

The need to ponder matters that cannot cause anxiety is just another paradox for the Terps (17-10, 6-7 ACC), who have perhaps demonstrated more in their last two games than they had all season. Yet no matter the style points for an 11-point home loss to Duke (just four days after an upset of North Carolina), it was still a setback as the season approaches its conclusion.

A defining six-game sequence preceding the ACC tournament was halved, and Maryland collected one victory in three tries against daunting opposition. But that’s only added to the value of the season’s only meeting with the Wolfpack (15-11, 5-8).

So many of the harrowing elements of Wednesday’s loss are now removed. The 41-point loss earlier in the season? Poof. Junior guard Greivis Vasquez’s second-half foul trouble? Gone. An unusually anemic night at the foul line (16-for-25)? Not a factor anymore.

One potential concern is guard Sean Mosley’s tweaked left ankle. The freshman returned a few minutes after suffering the injury early in the second half but was clearly limping at times. Mosley had ankle issues in the preseason when he missed a week that ultimately cost him the chance to open the season as a starter.

Coach Gary Williams said Saturday that he expected Mosley to start after he participated in about half of Friday’s practice. Still, it’s not entirely certain how effective Mosley will be - or how the Terps are coping with their latest loss - until Sunday night.

What remains, though, is evidence the Terps are playing better than they were a month ago.

“It’s a good sign because hopefully we’ve gotten to that point where we can do that,” Williams said. “We played three top-13 teams right in a row, and not many teams have done that this year across the country. I think we came out of it OK.”

That position could change with a shaky performance Sunday night. It took just one stunning result to vault Maryland from the periphery of the postseason landscape to the center of the discussion for the final NCAA tournament at-large berths.

Back-to-back losses, however they came, would simply relegate the Terps back to their previous tenuous situation - a reality Maryland is attempting not to concern itself with.

“You have to keep moving and prepare for the next game,” forward Landon Milbourne said. “You can’t really dwell on the past because you really don’t have time at this time of year.”

Especially with a meaningful week looming. The wild fluctuations of the season have only amplified the significance of Sunday night, even if the Terps’ precise needs seem to change by the game.

“Some teams don’t play crucial games this time of year, and we are,” Williams said. “I’d much rather be in this situation than not have that opportunity.”

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