While Maryland waits until its next game, Dec. 28 against South Carolina, the Terrapins can contemplate a 5-2 record that represents a considerable improvement over last year's 3-4 start. They also can contemplate a 55-54 loss Saturday at Louisiana State that represents a considerable improvement over a 75-49 loss at West Virginia a week earlier, but could have been a victory.

As the Terrapins try to continue their progress in practice, George Washington, American and George Mason will be trying to continue their progress in games. The Patriots, who got 35 points from Kenny Sanders Saturday and defeated Radford, 90-83, play Central Florida tonight at 8 at Patriot Center.

The Colonials, who defeated Monmouth, 64-54, Saturday night, are 5-1 -- their best start since 1972-73. A victory against American Tuesday night at Fort Myer will give GW its best start since 1955-56, when it won nine of its first 10 games.

"It's nice," said GW Coach John Kuester, whose team trailed Monmouth late in the first half, but then led by 22 before the Hawks scored the game's final 12 points.

"I think we played at one level against Michigan State {in an upset victory} and at that same level for the first 20 minutes against George Mason. But then we played at another level for the second 20 minutes against Mason and the first part of the game {Saturday} night. We had three guys playing intensely on defense {in the first half of the game against Monmouth}, but not five. I think we picked it up there in the second half."

The Colonials, who shot just 41.6 percent from the field for the game, were leading by only 32-29 with 16 1/2 minutes to play. But they put together a 23-6 run, during which they forced eight turnovers and scored on 12 of their 15 possessions, making seven of 11 field goal attempts.

"Not taking anything away from Monmouth, but we hadn't played up to our capability before that," said sophomore guard Ellis McKennie (14 points, five steals), who led GW along with junior center Max Blank (12 points, seven rebounds) and senior guard Gerald Jackson (10 points). "We had to get to our level of basketball."

American enters the GW game at 2-3, coming off a dramatic 72-71 win Saturday night over Dartmouth that was sparked by some last-minute heroics from senior guard Mike Sampson.

With his team trailing, 71-64, Sampson (21 points) made a three-point shot with 54 seconds to play. After Dartmouth's James Blackwell missed the first shot of a one-and-one and teammate Brendan O'Sullivan missed a reverse layup, Sampson hit a shot in the lane with 36 seconds left and was fouled. He completed the three-point play, making the score 71-70. Sampson and Brock Wortman then teamed to steal the ball from Jim Barton. Sampson picked up the loose ball and scored on a layup between two defenders with 23 seconds remaining.

In Baton Rouge, La., LSU needed some last-second heroics to pull out its victory over Maryland.

"I think we got to a point, where if we had made another bucket or two we would have put a lot more pressure on them," said Terrapins junior guard John Johnson, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with 25 seconds left and Maryland ahead, 54-53. "But we didn't put the pressure on them and make the plays in the crucial situations."

After Johnson's miss, the Tigers pushed the ball up the court. The ball went inside to Jose Vargas (game-high 16 points). He missed, but Bernard Woodside rebounded and passed the ball to Ricky Blanton, who missed an open jumper from the right corner. Woodside rebounded again and fed Fess Irvin on the left wing. Without hesitation, Irvin stepped up and swished a 17-footer.

"We played a decent ball game," said Maryland sophomore guard Teyon McCoy. "It hurts to lose, especially when you're ahead. We had the ball game and let it slip away."