- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

In the seconds before Dave Neal’s meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer floated through the rim Tuesday, the Maryland basketball team was zipping through the stages needed to cope with a close loss to Wake Forest.

Sure, they were flustered. And disappointed. And maybe even a little worried, given the tenuous nature of their postseason possibilities.

But soon enough, it was over, and the Terrapins (18-11, 7-8 ACC) were on to something else - namely Saturday’s visit to Virginia (9-17, 3-12) to finish a regular season that began with diminished expectations and turned turbulent in the past six weeks.

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Maryland, though, has become steady in its fluctuations. The Terps haven’t lost consecutive games since late January and collected back-to-back wins only once since conference play began. Essentially, each game is its own entity, with little obvious carryover in results even as coach Gary Williams has faced more public scrutiny than at any point in the past 15 years.

“Whether we win or lose a game, I think we’re ready to play the next game, and that’s what we’ve been able to do for about the last month or so,” Williams said. “I think that’s important once you get into conference play because, in a league like ours, you’re going to lose some games unless you’re a great basketball team. The first-place team this year has three losses, possibly four.”

The Terps have twice that, and virtually no external arbiter would have viewed them as a championship team when the season started. But they’ve never endured an extended slide like the ones fellow borderline NCAA tournament teams Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech have faced.

Maryland lost consecutive games in late November, then responded with a seven-game winning streak. The Terps followed a pair of losses in Florida with a victory against Virginia, and followed up two more losses (and some intradepartment sniping) to upend Miami in late January.

The Terps have followed each of their past four losses with victories. On Feb. 21, they defeated North Carolina just four days after a 29-point clubbing at Clemson.

Now comes the need to do it again as the season draws to a close.

“We handle losses pretty well,” guard Eric Hayes said. “We played well [against Wake Forest] for the most part, and that’s a great team that we played. It’s just one of those things where you have to put it behind you, and we’ve done a great job of putting losses behind us and looking forward to the next game.”

It is a contest with serious implications for Maryland, which despite its loss Tuesday probably saw its postseason profile enhanced as other teams bumbled their way through a week filled with carnage for NCAA tournament hopefuls.

While Maryland was busy losing a one-possession game to a well-regarded team, others weren’t so fortunate. Georgetown, Florida, Kentucky and Miami all absorbed stunning losses, and plenty more - Arizona, Providence, South Carolina and Virginia Tech among others - failed to improve their claims to an at-large berth.

That benefit would disappear with a loss to the Cavaliers, who have dropped 12 of 14. Maryland’s pluckiness and resilience would suggest an upset is less likely than in past years - like, say, last season - but those traits aren’t something the Terps are ready to boast about.

“I don’t want to say it’s impressive,” forward Dino Gregory said. “We all think we can do it, so it’s not like, ‘We’re surprised we can do it.’ It’s just something you go out there and do.”

The Terps have followed a loss with a poor performance just once this year - a late November setback against Georgetown. An ability to recover quickly has been a part of Maryland since early in the season, though Williams can’t be certain exactly when it seeped into his team.

He can see how it influenced the course of events in the past month, however.

“I know where we are now,” Williams said, “and that’s what counts.”

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