They've been looking up all season long Terps, Wolfpack try to escape cellar COLLEGE BASKETBALL

February 24, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- They have won two of 24 Atlantic Coast Conference games between them. They share last place in the league. They rank at or near the bottom among ACC teams in a number of categories.

So it figures that tonight's 8 o'clock game between Maryland (10-12, 1-11) and North Carolina State (7-15, 1-11) at Cole Field House could be a preview of the preliminary game for next month's ACC tournament.

No matter the outcome, the Terps and Wolfpack might wind up behind seventh-place Clemson and playing again the night before the start of the ACC tournament March 12 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum.

Nonetheless, this battle to get out of the basement is important.

"A game that both teams need and want," N.C. State coach Les Robinson said yesterday.

While the Wolfpack wants to even this season's series -- it lost to Maryland at home last month, 70-65 -- the Terps want to break a seven-game conference losing streak and a six-game home-court losing streak.

Along with Saturday's final home game against Clemson, tonight represents the last-gasp chance of finishing a once-promising season on a positive note. The Terps need to win both games to keep their flickering hopes alive for a National Invitation Tournament bid.

"The players know that these are big games," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday. "We get a chance to play two games at home. But unless we play well, we're not going to win. You don't talk about Clemson before you get ready for that one."

The Terps have been off since an 88-64 loss at Wake Forest a week ago, their longest break since mid-December. Considering they are in the midst of their most prolonged ACC losing streak since Williams took over four years ago, it came at the right time.

"Given our situation, it was [good]," said Williams. "We could take a step back and work with our young players, to try and refine some things. It hasn't seemed like a long time. We are anxious to get back to it tomorrow night."

The time off has allowed some injuries to heal, most notably senior point guard Kevin McLinton's bruised toe. But freshman forward Mario Lucas, who started the past three games, has been bothered by his back , which he injured against Florida State.

Williams indicated yesterday that senior center Chris Kerwin could return to the starting lineup if Lucas isn't ready. He also said that sophomore guard Wayne Bristol, who has played well of late, would likely be the first guard off the bench.

"Obviously we're going through a period where we have to be confident going into games, and that's tough given our recent losses," said Williams. "At the same time, there hasn't been an easy game that we should have won. The way N.C. State has played recently, it's going to be a very difficult game."

The Wolfpack's horrific season, which included the suicide of reserve Tony Robinson in December, has taken a positive swing lately. Despite losing its past two, N.C. State played well against Florida State (72-71) and Duke (91-82).

With his team down to eight players, Robinson has had to suit up manager Tommy Kane, a guard, to give the Wolfpack some semblance of depth. Robinson and his players are focusing on one thing: getting out of the ACC basement.

"This is a lot different than Florida State and North Carolina," Robinson said of Saturday's battle for first place in Tallahassee. "But this is a big game. No one wants to finish in the last spot."

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