Immediately after beating North Carolina State here Thursday night, the Maryland Terrapins became N.C. State fans.

A victory by the Wolfpack here Saturday over Wake Forest would enable Maryland to clinch the No. 3 seeding in next week's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

It would also help ensure that Maryland would finish with the third-best overall winning percentage in the league. Based on tradition, that would earn the Terrapins an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. Since 1980, when the NCAA stopped limiting the number of teams from a single conference, no less than four ACC teams have gone to the tournament each year.

Maryland (19-7, 8-5) currently is in third place in the conference but must play at Virginia Sunday in a nationally televised regular-season finale. If N.C. State (16-10, 7-6) beats visiting Wake Forest (17-9, 7-6), State would tie Maryland for third. But Maryland, because it beat State both times this season, would be the third seed for the ACC tournament in Atlanta.

The third seed may be in for the toughest opening-round game because it will play the sixth seed, likely to be Georgia Tech, the host team.

But Maryland showed it can play well on the road Thursday, coming from seven points down to win, 67-58. "This could be the toughest place in the conference to play," said Maryland guard Steve Rivers.

Instrumental in keeping the game close was the defensive performance of Jeff Adkins, who managed to keep State guard Dereck Whittenburg from becoming a factor in the second half. Whittenburg scored 15 points, but he made only six of 15 shots and just three of eight three-point shots.

State Coach Jim Valvano was criticized locally for starting Whittenburg, who had missed six weeks with a broken foot.

"Sure, I caught some flack for playing Whitt," said State Coach Jim Valvano. "And I can understand that criticism. People want to know why disrupt a lineup that had learned to play well without him. But I wanted Whitt to go out playing, not watching. I'd do it again, too. I didn't want him to live with that (having to sit) the rest of his life. You only get four years to play this game. I think he was doing some things out there from memory. But as much as he's done here for four years, I owed him that much."