BLACKSBURG, Va., March 5 -- Maryland's locker room at Cassell Coliseum was virtually silent early Saturday evening. Some players rustled as they packed their belongings; others sat motionless, struggling to grasp how the team's once promising NCAA tournament hopes could have evaporated after three straight losses to close the regular season.
Even after Maryland lost to Virginia Tech, 86-76, Saturday, at least one player refused to accept reality.
Terrapins' John Gilchrist goes up for a shot before having it blocked by Virginia Tech's Deron Washington (13).
(Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
Asked if he still felt confident Maryland would make the NCAA tournament, point guard John Gilchrist said, "Definitely. Why wouldn't we? That's how losers think [negatively]."
In truth, the Terrapins (16-11, 7-9) will likely miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993 unless they make a run in next week's ACC tournament at MCI Center. Maryland will be the eighth seed and will play in the opening game Thursday at noon.
The Terps will face Clemson, which already has beaten Maryland twice, unless Virginia wins at Florida State on Sunday. Had the Terps won Saturday, they would have finished no worse than fifth, which would have guaranteed a first-round bye and almost definitely a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Instead, Maryland finished with the same conference record it did last season, when it won the ACC tournament to claim the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid. This season Maryland figures to be a long shot to earn an at-large bid primarily because of its poor finish to the regular season, which includes two home losses and a 2-7 road record.
What's more, Maryland's Ratings Percentage Index, a measurement of a team's strength considered by the NCAA tournament selection committee, dropped eight spots to 48th one hour after Saturday's game.
"I'm not going to give up on it, that's for sure," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "We didn't win some games we should have. You go into the ACC tournament with the idea that if you get a couple [victories], you put yourself in pretty good shape."
Williams, a vocal defender of the conference's depth, said the reason for Maryland's poor road record has been its defense, not the strength of the ACC. Inconsistent defense again was the problem Saturday, as Virginia Tech (15-12, 8-8) beat Maryland for the first time since 1951 before a festive crowd of 9,847.
The Hokies, the league's most surprising team, dominated all the categories that measure hustle. They outrebounded Maryland 45-33. They outscored Maryland 21-11 on second-chance points. And they outscored Maryland 20-8 on fast-break points.
"We know we can score on anyone in the country," Maryland's Chris McCray said. "But we haven't played solid defense at times."
Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg keyed on competing better defensively and playing tougher than the Hokies had in their 86-71 loss at Maryland on Feb. 8.
Tech, in its first season in the ACC, secured a first-round bye in the ACC tournament, where it will open against Georgia Tech or North Carolina State on Friday.
"There was a lot at stake today," Greenberg said.