Maryland's spirits got a lift yesterday with the return to practice of senior center Charles Pittman, who fractured his left foot three weeks ago.

Dr. Stan Lavine, the team physician, examined Pittman and gave the 6-foot-8 player permission to run, shoot and jump lightly, but told him not to rebound or scrimmage.

Lavine said he will check Pittman's foot again Thursday night and decide then whether he can play Friday, when Maryland faces North Carolina State at 2 p.m. in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

After running through his shooting regimen for about an hour, Pittman said his left foot "started aching" but was not giving him any excessive pain.

"I was surprised he gave me the signal to practice," Pittman said. "I'm going to be scared to land on it (when jumping) for a couple of days. It hasn't healed all the way, but it does feel good enough to play lightly. Maybe each day I'll be able to do a little more."

Coach Lefty Driesell said he and Pittman will determine Thursday or Friday whether Pittman can play and, if so, how much. "I've been trying not to think about this," Driesell said yesterday, "because I'm too optimistic a lot of times. I really want Charles back for postseason play (either the NCAA or NIT tournaments).

"But I'm tempted to play him against State to win that game, then sit him down for the rest of the tournament. If we can beat State, I think we can get an NCAA bid."

Driesell hopes his team (15-11, 5-9 ACC) will be chosen for the NCAA tournament even without winning the ACC tourney. "I might be crazy, but I just can't see 48 teams better than us," Driesell said. "Of our 11 losses, seven have come against teams that have been ranked nationally at one point or another this season."

The Terrapins had a strenuous scrimmage yesterday in preparation for N.C. State. The scout team, anchored by Assistant Coach Sherman Dillard, transfers Ben Coleman and Andre Hines, and Chuck Driesell, defeated the starting team, 74-71.

Dillard, for practice purposes, was State's Dereck Whittenburg. Like Whittenburg, Dillard controlled things offensively. The only player quick and strong enough to guard Whittenburg (and Dillard) appears to be senior Reggie Jackson.

In the first game against State, in December at Raleigh, the fans rode Jackson viciously in the first few minutes of the game and Driesell took him out. Whittenburg went on to score 26 points and lead the Wolfpack to a 21-point victory.

Maryland's starting team yesterday was without forward Herman Veal, who has a sore left heel. Veal ran lightly and shot for two hours, but sat out the scrimmage as a precautionary measure. He expects to practice today and play Friday.

The Terrapins will practice again this afternoon, then bus to Greensboro, where they will practice Thursday.