Maryland's basketball team, destroyed by North Carolina in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Friday night, still is hopeful of keeping its up-and-down season alive in the National Invitation Tournament.

NIT bids will go out Sunday afternoon, and while Pete Carlesimo, the tournament chairman, was noncommittal on the Terrapins' chances yesterday, he said "there are 54 teams we are discussing. Maryland (18-10) is in our pot. So are N.C. State (18-12) and Virginia (18-9)."

Maryland Coach Lefty Drissell expects to receive a bid and if one is offered, the Terrapins will accept. In 1974 and 1977, they turned down NIT bids.

There are no rules prohibiting three teams from one conference qualifying for the NIT, though the five-man selection committee never has asked more than two teams from one league. Clemson (18-9) also is hopeful of receiving a bid.

"The committee is divided regarding this," Carlesimo said. "Some feel that if three teams measure up, they should not be eliminated. Others feel that three from one conference would not be fair to the rest of the country.

"Last year, most of the committee was against inviting three. This year it has not been taken up yet. I will say that we have never done it."

The NIT will invite 24 teams, with opening rounds beginning Wednesday to be played at schools around the country. Semifinal and final games will be played at New York's Madison Square Garden, March 19 and March 21.

The selection committee is looking as much for schools that can sell tickets as schools with superior records.

Maryland has several things working for it, should the choice come down to Maryland or Virginia, or Maryland or North Carolina State. Clemson's chances are considered slim.

The Terrapins have a better overall record than N.C. State and beat the Wolfpack twice.

Virginia has a better overall record than the Terrapins and beat Maryland twice. But the Terps have a bigger building to offer for the early-round site -- 14,500 at Cole Field House to 9,000 at Virginia's University Hall.

Should the Terps survive until the semifinals, they also have Brooklyn legend Albert King to draw fans and press to the Garden.

The NIT committee will consider several factors, among them: record in the last half of the season (7-7 for Maryland), injuries, outstanding performers, major wins, NIT tradition, Cinderella appeal and record against common opponents.

The NIT WAS PLEASED WITH CONTRIBUTIONS OF @N.C. State and Virginia to the tournament last year. N.C. State reached the final, and Virginia sold out its arena and has openly lobbied heavily for the bid again.

NCAA at-large bids will be issued at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, with NIT invitations to follow.

Maryland's season was an inconsistent one. With freshmen and sophomores dominating play, the Terrapins oddly were at their best early in the season, after starting out 2-2.

Subtracting victories over lightly regarded opponents on the schedule -- Bucknell, Air Force, Biscayne, Canisius and Navy -- the Terps were 13-10 against tougher competition, 7-7 against ACC teams.

Louisville and North Carolina each played its game of the year against Maryland and perpetrated the only blowouts. But Maryland did not decisively put away any team of equal talent, with the exception of the 124-110 win over N.C. State, sparked by Ernest Graham's record-setting 44 points and 18 field goals early in the year.

The Terrapins beat Notre Dame when the Irish were top ranked, N.C. State when the Wolfpack was ranked fourth and later eighth, and Duke when the Blue Devils were ranked fifth.

They also had puzzling losses to unranked Wake Forest and Virginia, and an overtime squeaker over St. Joseph's.

"It was a season of ups and downs, but there were more ups," said King. "I still don't think I played up to my potential. I hope I can in the NIT. If not, I'll just work hard all summer and come back strong."

When specificantly questioned, King indicated he would return to Maryland, dismissing any notion that he might enter his name in the NBA draft or transfer to another school.

"I'm not going anywhere," said King."I'm happy where I am."

Maryland's inconsistent play was probably not helped by the fact that the point guard situation never was settled. Greg Manning, Reggie Jackson and Dutch Morley all started there on almost a rotating basis, a few games at a time.

Jackson had started the 11 games prior to the tournament but his playing time dwindled. Morley started the tourney games.

Freshman forward Buck Williams was the ACC's leading rebounder and Maryland's most consistent player, followed by senior center Larry Gibson. Manning provided a lethal scoring punch off the bench.

Graham tailed off drastically at the end of the season and was one of several players contributing heavily to the turnover problem that plagued Maryland in almost every game.

The Terrapins basically kept themselves alive with their shooting. Their 51.3 percent mark from the floor was third best in the ACC, and their 78.7 points a game were second to N.C. State's 79.1

It has been a team with plenty of firepower but little patience. King is not possessed of the kind of killer instinct that could make him a decisive factor in every game.

Their weaknesses were abundantly evident in the semifinal game against North Carolina, a disciplined group of tacticians who have never lost to the present Maryland players.

"I hate to see LG (Gibson) and Eric (Shrader) leave Maryland without ever having beaten North Carolina," said Williams, a North Carolina native. "I just hate it that we didn't beat them."

Other players, meanwhile, were talking optimistically about a possible NIT bid.

"We know we're a good team," said King, who was slowed against Carolina by a sprained foot, "but we want to prove to the rest of the country that we're better than we looked tonight."

"It wasn't a great season," said Manning, also hampered by an injury. "But it was not disappointing. We're still hoping for the NIT."

"This game was a little embarrassing," said Morley. "But I don't think it's over. We're looking forward to the NIT.

"We've improved over last year. We lost a couple close ones. We were in most ball games and we weren't blown out... until now.

"All in all, it was a pretty successful season, nothing to be embarrassed about."