At last, postseason arrives for Terps

Pressure is on second-seeded Maryland as it begins ACC tournament play Friday night

March 11, 2010|By Jeff Barker | jeff.barker@baltsun.com

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament has a familiar feel for the second-seeded Maryland Terrapins. After all, they have played each of the participants this season and could find themselves playing at least one team for a third time.

At the same time, the tournament is very different -- the schedule is more compressed -- than the regular season. Preparing for it requires a new set of procedures.

About the only thing like it for No. 19 Maryland this season was the Maui Invitational, in which the Terps played three games in three days in November, losing two. The team could have a similar schedule at Greensboro Coliseum if it wins Friday night and Saturday to advance to Sunday's final.

"Having tournaments like Maui earlier in the season [helps] because it was similar," said freshman forward Jordan Williams. "It prepared us a little bit."

Maryland (23-7), which had a first-round bye, will play Georgia Tech (20-11) in the quarterfinals Friday night. The seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets, who are on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid, came back from a 13-point, first-half deficit Thursday night to beat North Carolina, 62-58.

The Terps needed a Cliff Tucker buzzer-beater to beat Georgia Tech, 76-74, on Feb. 20. The Yellow Jackets have an imposing front court led by freshman Derrick Favors and junior Gani Lawal. Favors had 21 points and 18 rebounds against the Terps. Against North Carolina, Favors had 18 points and Lawal had a key basket in the final moments.

"When we get back to the hotel we'll start thinking and talking about Maryland," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "I have a lot of respect for [Maryland coach] Gary [Williams] and his team and Greivis Vasquez."

Gary Williams planned to watch the Georgia Tech-North Carolina game with the team at their hotel. Assistant coaches Keith Booth and Robert Ehsan sat at a long table behind one of the baselines taking notes.

The coach said earlier that the tournament format poses special challenges. "What's complicated about that is you don't who you're going to play, until about 9:30 [the night before]," Williams said.

"What we've tried to do this week is work on our stuff ... your out-of-bounds plays, your special situations, all those things. Thankfully we've played these teams before -- whoever we play."

Maryland last won the tournament in 2004.

Teams with good bench strength enjoy a tournament advantage because the starters don't have to log too many minutes. Guards Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker and forward Dino Gregory have been Maryland's first players off the bench. "Our bench has stepped stopped up a lot this year," Jordan Williams said.

Maryland coaches have expressed faith that starting forward Landon Milbourne, a senior, will revert to his earlier form.

Beginning Dec. 27, Milbourne scored in double figures for nine games in a row. But he has scored in single digits in the past six contests dating back to Feb. 17. "I've been struggling for like the past six games," Milbourne said. "Coach [Williams] says it's a new season so I'm trying to get out to a fresh start and see if we can pick it back up. A blank slate really. The regular season is over with, so it's no reason for me to think about that."

Maryland has won seven games in a row.

"The last couple weeks were really good for us but there's always room for improvement," Gregory said "The Virginia game [to end of the regular season] was probably the toughest game of the whole season. Everybody was really tired. But we got a chance to rest."

Maryland coaches wanted the players to be as fresh as possible. In addition to the usual support staff, the team brought along somebody different -- a massage therapist.

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