With an eye focused on tournament play, Maryland plays host to Atlantic Coast Conference leader Duke at 8 tonight in Cole Field House. It will be the final home game of the season for the Terrapins.

"If we execute our offense and our fundamentals, we can beat Duke," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell. "I'm not afraid of them. I think we'll beat them.

"And if we beat Duke, I'm sure we're going some where (a postseason tournament)." The game will be shown here on WJLA-TV-7.

In other 8 p.m. games involving local teams, American (13-11) travels to 14th-ranked Temple (19-3) and Howard (14-10) is at South Carolina State (6-18).

Ranked fifth in the AP poll, Duke holds a one-game lead at 8-1 in the ACC.

Winning the regular-season championship would virtually assure the Blue Devils of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, a safeguard they want in case they fail to win the ACC tournament title. North Carolina is 7-2, with games left against Virginia, North Carolina State and Duke. Duke has Clemson and North Carolina remaining after tonight.

Duke has been impressive at 18-4, while Maryland's 15-8 overall record and 4-5 mark in the ACC have drawn some criticism.

Asked if he had felt any pressure, Driesell replied, "Absolutely none. I don't see how I could.

"This is my program. I've built it, on hard work. I'm not a rookie coach. I've been doing this for 19 years. I know enough about basketball to know if I'm doing a good job or bad job and when I'm doing a bad job I'll get out. When it's time to leave nobody will have to tell me to.

"We've been invited to a postseason tournament every year except my first two and last year, and been to the (NCAA) final eight twice.

"I'm proud of our team this year. I think we've had a super season. We've lost some games we should have won and won some we should have lost, and that is consistent with being a young team. If I had scheduled three easy wins instead of Georgetown, Louisville and Las Vegas, we'd be 18-5 and we'd be ranked in the top 20.

"You name someone who's played a tougher schedule than we have. We're also one of the youngest teams in the country. And we're better than some of the teams in the top 20. We've proven that.

"If anybody chooses to say something unkind about me, that's their problem."

Duke has beaten Maryland four straight times, recently behind the all-around play of guard Jim Spanarkel.

Driesell said he stressed transition defense in practice this week.

"Duke scored 51 points on fast breaks against us last time," said Driesell. "I just told them to concentrate on running their offense, and getting back on defense.

"We've made a few little changes in initiating our offense and put in a new play we might use. Other than that, we're not doing anything different.

"We'll use both zone and 'man' defense. Duke is not a one-man team. You have to stop them all."

Driesell said he will keep using hot-shooting guard Greg Manning off the bench and that he is satisfied with the play of both starting point guard Reggie Jackson and reserve Dutch Morley.

American University's opponent, Temple, leads the East Coast Conference East Section with an 8-0 record and the game is important in assuring the Owls a first- or second-place finish, which would give them a bye in the first round of the conference tournament. AU is 6-3 in the ECC and already has clinched fourth place in the East Section.

Guard Mark Garlitos needs three assists to break AU's season record of 150 set by Don Slappy in 1976-77.

Larry Spriggs is Howard's leading scorer at 15.1 points, but forward Carlton Richardson has given the best performances recently, compiling 12 points and seven rebounds against Morgan State and 20 points, including the winning basket, and 10 rebounds against A&T.