Loss leaves weakened Terps with little bargaining power

March 11, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

GREENSBORO, N.C. — GREENSBORO, N.C.-- --The objective is to win, period, regardless of margin of victory, because the win at this crucial time of year is what adds to the resume of an NCAA tournament contender.

Logic says that the margin of defeat shouldn't matter, either, just the loss. If a loss was to slide a team out of contention, then it shouldn't matter whether it was a one-pointer or 21-pointer.

But those members of the selection committee are human, blessed with eyes and ears to see and hear a grotesquely lopsided score. So if the selectors were wavering on Maryland even after last night's loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, the Terps were certainly hurt by that laugher of a final score - 80-66.

Maryland and the rest of the country will find out tomorrow night, but the future has got to be grim. The day before, Florida State kept trying to state its case for inclusion after a loss, and the Seminoles sounded desperate, almost ridiculous. A throttling like this would reduce the Terps' argument to something similar.

Boston College clearly belongs in the field. Against the Eagles, Maryland looked like it didn't belong. The evidence was pretty strong.

"It's definitely disappointing. We had a lot of emotion going in, a lot of emotional highs all week," said senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who couldn't even finish his last ACC tournament game on the floor after spraining an ankle early in the second half.

"They had a little more in the tanks tonight," he added.

The Terps looked like a team that had left its game on the floor the night before against Georgia Tech - in fact, the Terps looked worse against Boston College than Georgia Tech had looked against them. That night, Gary Williams had spoken of motivation and fortitude, and his players brought both out there last night. They just had wrung everything else out by the time they faced a bigger, faster, better team, one that had earned a bye and a No. 11 national ranking.

Whatever Maryland had to use up to beat Miami, Virginia and Georgia Tech just to get into the NCAA conversation, they had used up completely. That much was obvious in the game's first two minutes, when the parade of Terps misses and Eagles paybacks was in full stride - when it was 7-0 Boston College, and Williams was calling a quick timeout to stop the bleeding.

Williams lost his suit jacket just before the next timeout, barely five minutes in, after the lead had ballooned to 17-2. He did his share of yelling and gesturing the rest of the half, but most of the time he could do nothing more than run the fingers of both hands through his hair.

Simply, nobody could make a shot. That's not a news flash for this team, and neither was the fact that it struggled to keep from throwing the ball away. Usually - and especially during the late-season rush - the Terps' defensive intensity and offensive balance made up for those deficiencies.

"For the last week, we've been that kind of team," Williams said afterward, speaking of the intangibles that got them to the doorstep last night. "But this time, we didn't show that."

They had heart; they just didn't have as much heart as Boston College had size and speed. Craig Smith was too much to handle inside, Jared Dudley and the guards too agile to stay with outside, and everybody had the shooting touch and had hands in the passing lanes and the explosion to the basket, at both ends.

The Terps had taken the court in new black uniforms. Before they'd even gotten sweaty, the Eagles had stripped them bare, exposed them to the world - and to the voters.

Earlier in the day, after his top-seeded Duke team had barely held off upstart Miami, Mike Krzyzewski pointed out that teams with byes in this tournament and others around the country might actually be at a disadvantage this year, because teams that play in the early rounds pick up momentum and rhythm. That description fit his team and the next bye team on the floor yesterday, North Carolina State, which got steamrollered by last-place Wake Forest.

The theory sounded plausible. Boston College blew it to smithereens.

After the 7-0 start, Maryland still had 46 minutes to make good on its pledge to keep its destiny in its own hands. Now, that's over - or so it seems.

Were they already in the big tournament on the basis of the Georgia Tech win? Is their strength of schedule enough to outweigh the losses on that quality schedule? Does this game weigh the same as the Terps' win in Comcast in December, even though both teams barely resemble now what they were then? Can they claim to be one of the top 34 at-large teams in the country?

There are all sorts of numbers to crunch. But there's also the eyeball test. Last night, Maryland flunked.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

Terps' results

Record: 19-12

Date Opponent Result

11/18 Fairleigh Dickinson W, 111-85

11/21 Gonzaga-x L, 88-76

11/22 Chaminade-x W, 98-69

11/23 Arkansas-x W, 75-62

11/27 Nicholls State W, 88-56

11/30 Minnesota W, 83-66

12/5 George Washington-y L, 78-70

12/7 Western Carolina W, 87-57

12/11 Boston College W, 73-71

12/23 American W, 81-55

12/28 Delaware State W, 68-54

12/31 VMI W, 99-68

1/4 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi W, 99-73

1/7 @Miami L, 84-70

1/11 @Duke L, 76-52

1/15 Wake Forest W, 90-86

1/21 Virginia Tech W, 81-72

1/25 @Georgia Tech W, 86-74

1/28 @Temple L, 91-85

2/2 North Carolina L, 77-62

2/5 @N.C. State L, 62-58

2/7 Virginia W, 76-65

2/11 Duke L, 96-88

2/14 @Clemson L, 89-77

2/18 Georgia Tech W, 87-84, OT

2/22 @Florida State L, 71-60

2/26 @North Carolina L, 81-57

3/1 Miami W, 65-61

3/5 @Virginia W, 71-70

3/9 Georgia Tech-z W, 82-64

3/10 Boston College-z L, 80-66

x-Maui Invitational; y-BB&T Classic. z-ACC tournament.

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