Terps win earns bye

loss could be farewell

College Basketball

March 05, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - It was supposed to be simply one final tuneup for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, a time for solidifying league positioning and maintaining momentum.

Instead, the Maryland Terrapins are in Blacksburg, Va., today to play Virginia Tech with nothing short of their whole postseason on the line.

Most college basketball pundits, Maryland coach Gary Williams included, think the Terps (16-10, 7-8) will clinch their 12th straight NCAA tournament bid with a win over the Hokies. Meanwhile, a loss would seemingly force Maryland to win at least one game in next week's ACC tournament to avoid its first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament since the 1989-90 season, Williams' first in College Park.

That's not all. If the Terps are able to beat Virginia Tech (14-12, 7-8), they would finish as high as fourth and no worse than fifth in the league, guaranteeing a bye in the first round of the league tournament at MCI Center.

However, by losing their third straight, the Terps would accept anywhere from a sixth to an eighth seed, depending on this weekend's Clemson-Georgia Tech and Wake Forest-North Carolina State games. That means that the Terps would play Thursday, the first day of the ACC tournament, and have to win four games in as many days if they hope to repeat as league champions.

"We have to win," said Williams, who celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday. "There's no sense of talking about that and worrying about it until you win the game."

Williams said he wiped the slate clean for his team after its 85-83 loss to No. 2 North Carolina on Sunday, telling his players, "Don't worry about anything this week except getting ready to play Virginia Tech."

But even if Williams hasn't discussed with the Terps their status on the NCAA bubble, Maryland's players have watched enough college basketball this week to know where they stand. The Terps are in a four-way tie, which includes Virginia Tech, for fourth in the league. Miami (7-9 in the ACC) fell a half-game back by losing to Duke on Thursday.

"Of course, [Williams told us], we have to win," said junior forward Travis Garrison. "If we win, hopefully we are in. If we don't, then we are out. ... We know what situation we are in."

Still, the Terps may not be the most desperate team at the Cassell Coliseum today. Though their success in their inaugural ACC season has been one of the feel-good stories of college basketball, the Hokies have lost five of their past seven games. Most analysts think Virginia Tech not only needs to beat Maryland today, but make an extended run in the league tournament to earn an NCAA berth.

Clemson, which swept Maryland and is the main reason the Terps are on the bubble, delivered a crushing blow to Virginia Tech on Tuesday, beating the Hokies, 66-64, on Sharrod Ford's dunk at the buzzer. Hokies sophomore guard Jamon Gordon, who committed the late turnover that led to Ford's dunk, was so distraught after the game that he was crying at his locker.

"Our kids obviously after the game were extremely disappointed and yet we still have a chance for a bye [in the ACC tournament]," said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg. "I think our kids will be fine."

Greenberg acknowledged that his team has comfort in being at home, where the Hokies are 11-3 this season and beat Duke about three weeks ago. He is expecting a raucous and sold-out Cassell Coliseum, which will celebrate senior Carlos Dixon's last regular-season game in Blacksburg.

The Terps are just 2-5 on their opponents' home courts this season, but Garrison said the Terps are confident because they beat the Hokies by 15 at Comcast Center about a month ago. In that game, Maryland shot 52.5 percent from the field and had four players in double figures. Sophomores Will Bowers and Mike Jones came off the bench to total 19 points on 9-for-9 shooting.

"We're in the same situation we were last year," Jones said. "But we know what we have to do as a team. We just have to go out there and compete."

Maryland needed to win its last two regular-season games last season to get off the bubble and the Terps did. Greenberg knows how dangerous the Terps have been in must-win scenarios in the past couple of seasons.

"They reflect [Williams'] personality," the Hokies' coach said. "He's not going to back down to anything or anyone. Gary is the best at creating a cause. Obviously, they have a pretty good cause right now."

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