Hot Terps try to stay in flow vs. N.C. State

Maryland's momentum faces 'Pack's motivation

College Basketball

March 02, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. - The Maryland Terrapins could not be on a more impressive roll.

The 14th-ranked Terps have just concluded the first season in their new home at Comcast Center with back-to-back victories by a combined 79 points over Clemson and North Carolina, marking the school's most lopsided consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference wins in history.

Maryland, which has won four of its past five games and won its final three home games by an astounding average of 34 points, is shooting at an otherworldly rate. The Terps made a season-high 63 percent against Clemson, which followed a sizzling 58 percent effort against Carolina.

But Terps coach Gary Williams, who stands one victory shy of career No. 500 near the end of his 25th season overall and his 14th at Maryland, knows how quickly all of the momentum could vanish today when Maryland (18-7, 10-4) hits the road to face highly motivated North Carolina State.

Even though Maryland has won 22 of its past 26 games against the Wolfpack, including eight of its past nine in Raleigh, the Terps figure to encounter a desperate opponent at RBC Center. N.C. State (15-9, 8-5), sitting in fourth place in the ACC, is fighting for its NCAA tournament life.

The Wolfpack needs a quality victory, either today or Saturday against visiting Wake Forest, which is trying to clinch its first regular-season conference crown in 41 years.

Although one victory during its last three regular-season games could be enough to send it back to the NCAAs for a second straight year, the Wolfpack likely could seal the deal early by knocking off the defending national champions.

"If we hadn't won on the road yet, you'd really worry about today and next Sunday [at Virginia]. We can only do what we do," said Williams, who enjoyed a 75-60 win over N.C. State in College Park on Jan. 30.

"You can't go in there and play hard because of what the game means to N.C. State. You play hard because it's a game. We know it's going to be a tough game. We've got to keep our edge."

Maryland, locked in a three-way race with Duke and Wake for another regular-season conference title, has one of the hottest players in the league in senior point guard Steve Blake and one of the hottest benches in the league, led by freshman point guard John Gilchrist.

The Terps are sharing the ball beautifully - they produced a combined 57 assists in their past two games - and are playing suffocating defense.

But the Terps also are headed into a strange and dangerous curve in their schedule. After playing four games in a nine-day stretch, they travel to Raleigh on four days' rest, then must wait six days before their regular-season finale in Charlottesville.

"I'd rather keep playing every two or three days, because we're in a groove. But hopefully, we'll handle [the layoff] maturely," said Maryland senior guard Drew Nicholas, who leads the Terps in scoring (17.3 points a game).

"We understand what it takes to win on the road. You can't come in and loaf around for a half. Obviously [today] is a really big game, but State is playing for something a little bit different. They're looking at the big picture. They're going to be hungry. We have to play with the same type of fire and intensity like we do at home."

N.C. State, led by sophomore swingman Julius Hodge (18.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg), is coming off an emotional overtime win at North Carolina, where the Wolfpack tied an ACC record by making all 22 of its free throws, including 10 in the extra period. And the team is 13-1 at home, including 6-0 against the conference.

The Wolfpack loves to spread the floor with interchangeable parts, as such post players as Josh Powell and Marcus Melvin handle the ball away from the basket and shoot three-pointers. And rest assured, N.C. State does not want Williams reaching another milestone on its floor.

"I don't know what it's going to take to get us into the NCAAs. I don't have that type of clairvoyance," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "I think Gary Williams is a Hall of Fame coach, and it is stunning what [the Terps] are doing. They are clicking on all cylinders. They are playing phenomenal basketball right now."

Said Williams: "Twenty-five years is a big chunk of your life. You realize how quickly things have gone. I'm fortunate in that I've been able to coach in three of the major conferences [Big East, Big Ten, ACC]. You want to be where the big games are."

The Terps are in yet another one today.

Terps tonight

Matchup:No. 14 Maryland (18-7) at N.C. State (15-9)

Site:RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

Time: 8

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

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