TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The outcome of today's game here against Florida State is certainly important for the postseason plans of the University of Maryland basketball team, but it might not be as vital as when this two-game road trip began.
That's because of what happened Thursday night in Chapel Hill, where, despite losing for the fourth straight time in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Terrapins might have found some things that had been missing and some they didn't know they had.
This is what Maryland (12-7, 5-5) discovered in the course of a second-half comeback against top-ranked North Carolina. It began with the Terps down by 18 points with less than nine minutes remaining and ended after they had cut the lead to one before losing, 95-89.
* Freshman Joe Smith found the touch that had helped him get off to a sensational start in the ACC. The 6-foot-10 center, who had come into the game in a 15-of-60 shooting slump and had not scored more than 12 points in his previous three games, finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds while outplaying senior All-America Eric Montross for the second time this season.
* Sophomore Duane Simpkins found the toughness that had made him one of the biggest surprises in the ACC earlier this season. The 6-1 guard, who had missed 18 of 23 shots in the team's previous three games and whose production had fallen, made five of six shots in a 15-point, five-assist performance.
* Gary Williams found that he had a bench, which recently had consisted almost solely of sophomore forward Mario Lucas. Maryland got solid contributions from little-used senior guard Wayne Bristol and freshman forward Nick Bosnic. Bristol, who had played only 23 minutes since regaining his eligibility in late December, scored 15 points in 16 minutes. Bosnic, whose early-season promise was sidelined by a couple of bouts of the flu, made three of five shots in an 11-minute, seven-point stint.
* The Terps found their shooting touch. Maryland, which had shot less than 35 percent in its previous four games, was a respectable 33 of 65. The Terps were the first ACC team to shoot better than 50 percent this season against the Tar Heels, who had been holding teams to 39.5 a game. Maryland made nine of 16 three-point shots.
"I think we have a lot of positive things to take with us to Florida State," Simpkins said.
Smith said: "I think we got back to doing the things that made us successful earlier this season."
The Terps nearly had a victory to take with them here. But after a 21-4 run brought Maryland back from a 74-56 deficit with 8:46 remaining to 78-77 with just more than four minutes left, The Tar Heels ran off the next six points -- four of them coming off steals -- and were not threatened after that.
"We have to try to use this as a springboard," Williams said. "I'm not big on morale-type victories, but coming into the No. 1 team's building and having a chance to take the lead late after being down 18 is pretty good. You feel good about this, but you never want to take away the urgency of winning."
The urgency is there for both teams in today's 2 p.m. game the Tallahassee-Leon Civic Center, but probably more for Florida State (10-9, 3-7) than for Maryland. The Seminoles, who started showing signs of making up some ground with recent victories over Georgia Tech and Virginia, lost Thursday night at Wake Forest.
The return of point guard and Heisman Trophy quarterback Charlie Ward has given Florida State a lift, as has moving freshman Kirk Luchman into the starting lineup at center ahead of senior Andre Reid.
"We felt at the beginning of the week that Charlie Ward would be more of a factor this year than he was the last two seasons," Florida State coach Pat Kennedy said earlier this week. "After not having Charlie for the first month, we thought we'd be the most improved team in the league or the most disappointing. We've improved, but we still have a long way to go."