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Terps Are Shown Their Way Out

NCAA Berth Looks Unlikely After 1st-Round Loss to Clemson: Clemson 84, Maryland 72

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page D01

It ended with players trudging to the locker room, the star of last year's ACC tournament limping and Maryland's NCAA tournament hopes in tatters.

Last year, Maryland was the lone team standing at the close of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., celebrating its first title in two decades. This season, Maryland was the first school sent home from MCI Center.

Maryland's Ekene Ibekwe, left, and John Gilchrist realize the end may be near for the Terrapins and their 11 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

Clemson's 84-72 victory over the Terrapins yesterday in the first round of the ACC tournament was likely the decisive blow to their quest to reach a 12th straight NCAA tournament. The Terps (16-12) are expected to miss their first NCAA tournament since 1993 after losing their fourth straight game and their third this season to Clemson.

Afterward, Terps Coach Gary Williams was asked whether the early exit was more disappointing considering this is the first time Washington has hosted the event during his 16-year tenure at his alma mater. "And it makes last year even more special," he said, "when we kicked everyone's butt in Greensboro."

Williams declined to lobby for his team, saying instead that Maryland will accept the NCAA tournament selection committee's announcement of the 65-team field Sunday evening.

"Whatever we are, we are," Williams said. "I learned that a long time ago, too. You earn your way on the court and whatever happens, that's fine."

Williams said the Tigers (16-14) played harder than Maryland in all three games this season. Clemso's players had plenty of motivation, saying afterward they felt disrespected by Maryland.

Sharrod Ford, the Suitland native who scored a combined 49 points in the two regular season meetings, said Maryland players "were making up excuses why they lost the first two games. That was our motto: respect."

Clemson players also were rankled that Maryland had earlier announced that a Thursday night pep rally was going to be held. Maryland's pep rally, however, is an annual event, according to the school's news release.

"We're still trying to go" to Maryland's pep rally, Clemson's Cheyenne Moore said. "We want to celebrate with them tonight."

The ninth-seeded Tigers advanced to play top-seeded North Carolina today at noon. The eighth-seeded Terps will have to watch the rest of the tournament on television, contemplating how their season unraveled the past two weeks.

Maryland's challenge of containing Ford became more difficult yesterday because freshman forward James Gist could not play because of a bruised knee he suffered in Monday's practice.

Nevertheless, the Terps did a better job against Ford, holding the senior to six points, all in the second half. But Maryland's defense otherwise struggled, allowing the Tigers to make 53.6 percent of their shots in the first half. Maryland's players had pledged Wednesday that they would display heightened defensive intensity against Clemson.

"I saw something in the paper that the team that's coming to play us isn't the team that came to play us the first time," Clemson's Olu Babalola said. "I don't appreciate that. A lot of them flat-out overlooked us; and this pep rally tonight, which I will be attending, I've got to find out what time it is."

Clemson started the game poorly, turning over the ball on its first six possessions. The Tigers did not attempt a shot until nearly three minutes had elapsed. Maryland fortified a 10-point advantage as guard Chris McCray scored 12 of the Terps' first 14 points. He finished with 24.

But Maryland point guard John Gilchrist, the MVP of last year's tournament, sprained his left ankle in the first half and was never the same. Gilchrist played only one minute in the second half; he made 1 of 7 shots and finished with four points. The junior tried to implore his teammates to rally from the bench, but it proved futile.

Players' sentiments were mixed in the locker room. Gilchrist vowed to be motivated for the National Invitation Tournament, if that's the team's fate. Others, such as Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison, clung to a slender thread of hope that they will be rewarded when the NCAA tournament brackets are revealed Sunday.

"I don't want to be part of the team that is a disappointment to Maryland after making it for 11 years," Garrison said. "It's up to the selection committee to just give us a chance, and I pray that we make it."

Williams, asked if the school prematurely scheduled the pep rally that so irritated Clemson, said: "This isn't a high school. So what? . . . That's the Terrapin Club or something. I didn't even know there was a pep rally tonight. The senior prom is in May."

Told about Williams's comments, Ford responded, "I don't have to worry about him anymore."

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