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Maryland Puts Season on the Line Against Clemson in ACC Tourney

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page D01

Call this Must-Win, Part II.

Five days after the Maryland Terrapins lost a game they had described as a "must-win," the sense of urgency around the program could not be higher entering today's game against Clemson in the first round of the ACC tournament at MCI Center. Saturday's loss at Virginia Tech badly bruised Maryland's hopes of being invited to the NCAA tournament for a 12th straight year, but a string of losses by other teams in similarly precarious situations gave Maryland renewed optimism.

If eighth-seeded Maryland beats Clemson today, the Terps likely will earn one of the final at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's quarterfinal against North Carolina.


Clemson's Sharrod Ford, left, beats Maryland's Nik Caner-Medley to a loose ball during the Tigers' 97-93 win on Feb. 22. Ford had 49 points and 20 rebounds in two wins over Maryland. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

_____ ACC Tournament _____
 ACC tournament
Terps set to face Clemson with a sense of urgency that could not be much higher.
Each of the 11 schools competing in Washington this week has something at stake.
Virginia is treating the ACC tournament as a new season.
Few will enjoy the ACC tournament more than Georgetown transfer Tony Bethel, now at North Carolina State.
Full-Court Press: News and notes
Maryland-Clemson capsule
Miami-Virginia capsule
N.C. State-FSU capsule

_____ Thursday's Schedule _____
(8) Md. vs. (9) Clemson, Noon
(7) N.C. St. vs. (10) FSU, 2:30
(6) Miami vs. (11) Virginia, 7 p.m.

__ Tournament Preview Section __
 ACC tournament
The MCI Center plays host to the ACC tournament, considered by some to be the biggest event in college basketball.
John Feinstein: The tradition of the ACC tournament is what makes it so special.
Bracket and schedule
Although he is one of the ACC's best players, Tar Heels freshman Marvin Williams remains humble.
News Graphic: Freshman who might play big roles this week.
The improved play of center Eric Williams gives the Demon Deacons a potent inside-outside game.
Lee Melchionni has taken advantage of increased playing time and given Duke a major boost.
News Graphic: Tournament information, map and records.

_____ Team Capsules _____
Clemson
Duke
Florida State
Georgia Tech
Maryland
Miami
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Virginia
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest

_____ On Our Site _____
ACC in D.C.: Dan Steinberg reports from the ACC tournament.
Where to go: Check out the best places to watch all the action.
An interactive guide to the hot spots around the MCI Center.

The mood among players yesterday was one of opportunity and urgency. When asked to pinpoint the key to the game, guard Chris McCray said: "Win. That's the key right there. Whether it's ugly or pretty, we just have to win. We know we hold our fate in our hands."

Added center Ekene Ibekwe, "This is basically our season."

Maryland (16-11, 7-9) ranks a respectable 50th in the Ratings Percentage Index, a measurement of a team's strength considered by the selection committee. And the Terps twice have beaten Duke, a team still in contention for a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

"If we win against Clemson," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said, "it puts us in pretty good shape."

Maryland has not missed the NCAA tournament since 1993. But this hasn't been a typical season; the Terps have been among the most inconsistent teams in the nation despite having four starters back from the team that won last season's ACC tournament.

"It's been a tough season," guard Mike Jones said.

Maryland players pledged that today's performance will more closely resemble what they did in the two victories over Duke than it will the three straight losses to close the regular season. The buzzword all week in practice has been defense.

Clemson (15-14, 5-11) shot 58.2 and 50 percent in two victories over the Terps during the regular season. Big man Sharrod Ford scored a combined 49 points in the wins. And Feb. 22, Clemson scored the most points (97) it had ever scored in an ACC road game that did not go into overtime.

Maryland players described the tenor of the week's practices as intense, with a particular emphasis on honing fundamentals. "We do have a lot of pride as a basketball program," Williams said.

Players were reluctant to say they could draw upon last year's championship as inspiration for this season's tournament. But Williams wasn't, saying that while it's a new year, these players have accomplished it before -- "We've done it," he said. The difference this year is that it would take four victories in four days for Maryland to claim the conference crown.

Maryland made its three-game run last year in Greensboro, N.C., the same place the Terps won the ACC tournament title in 1984. This is the first time in Williams's 16-year tenure at his alma mater that the event will be held in the Washington area.


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