RALEIGH, N.C., MARCH 3 -- Maryland lost to 16th-ranked North Carolina State, 74-68, at Reynolds Coliseum last night after leading with less than six minutes remaining.

"We have to start converting some of these," said Maryland Coach Bob Wade. "We were right there. We know we can compete with all the teams in the ACC. We just have to do a better job finishing it off."

But it's March, and the games are getting to be precious and few. The Terrapins are 15-11, 5-8 and tied with Virginia for fifth-place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cavaliers and Terrapins will meet Saturday afternoon in College Park. If the Terrapins still have a chance for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, they will certainly need to beat the Cavaliers, then do well in the ACC tournament, which starts Friday in Greensboro, N.C. How well? Who knows?

"I don't know," Wade said. "I don't make those decisions."

The NCAA tournament selection committee would have had a much easier time selecting Maryland had the Terrapins played better at either end of the second half. After taking a 39-34 lead to the locker room, they went nearly seven minutes before scoring in the second half, during which time North Carolina State erased the deficit and took a 42-39 lead. The Terrapins recovered from that dry spell, but not the one down the stretch.

Brian Williams, who was again hampered with foul trouble, scored to give Maryland its last lead, 55-54, with 5:36 left in the game. But as Williams said, "It was pretty dry after that."

North Carolina State then outscored Maryland, 8-2, with Charles Shackleford getting four of his game-high 21 points in that stretch. That left the Wolfpack ahead, 62-57, with 2:58 left, after which Maryland never got closer than three points.

It didn't hurt that the Wolfpack made 10 of their last 11 free throws.

"I'm glad we played better in the second half -- not that we played bad in the first," said North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano, whose team is now firmly in second place with a 9-4 ACC record and 22-6 overall. "We shot well, but we were better at the end. We did things right and they did things right, too. They played well all night. This was a tough, tough game."

For the 11th straight game, Wade used a different starting lineup. As always, Derrick Lewis, Rudy Archer and Williams started. Tonight, Wade also started Keith Gatlin and Teyon McCoy, who was assigned to guard North Carolina State point guard Chris Corchiani. Wade said he wanted McCoy -- his best defensive guard -- to stop Corchiani's penetration.

Another effect, at least in the first half, was that Corchiani and crew had trouble getting the ball to Shackleford, a 6-foot-10 center. He had just seven points in the first half, with a combination of Terrapins forwards guarding him, though Lewis got most of the work there.

Although the Terrapins had Shackleford under some control, Brian Howard's nine points and Chucky Brown's eight at that point kept the Wolfpack in the game.

"It's hard for both of them to have great numbers in a 50-point ball game," Valvano said of Shackleford and Brown. "But that's what makes us a pretty good basketball team. We have two guys that are pretty good down low."

The Wolfpack had a 16-9 lead with 14 minutes left, but the Terrapins outscored them, 10-2, to take a 19-18 lead with 10:44 left. Tony Massenburg came off the bench and scored five of his team-high 16 points in that stretch.

The lead changed hands several times, but the Terrapins took their biggest lead of the game, 36-29, with five minutes left, on a jumper by Massenburg.

But then came the second half draught.

"Not being able to score coming out in the second half hurt us again," said Wade, whose team went 6:08 without scoring. "We built up some really good momentum at the close of the first half, but we came out and couldn't put the ball in the basket. We got some good shots, but they wouldn't fall. We dug a deep hole in the second half and then came back, but we made some bad decisions down the stretch."

Said Brown: "We picked up the pace defensively in the second half, and it caused a couple turnovers."

"We didn't do anything differently," said Valvano. "We just did it better."

North Carolina State put together a short run and again it went inside. Howard dunked and Shackleford scored on a reverse layup and a jam for a 48-41 lead with 11:35 left in the game.

"They did a good job getting the ball to him," Wade said of Shackleford. "And he made some good shots. He wasn't under the basket. We pushed him off the block. He just made the tough shots."

The Terrapins, however, didn't let North Carolina State get too far away. Archer hit a three-pointer from about 23 feet and then made two free throws. After Shackleford scored with his left hand, Massenburg made a jumper and Lewis made a three-point play, which put the Terrapins ahead, 51-50, with 8:21 left.

Needing a basket, Vinny Del Negro came through for North Carolina State. The lead went back and forth a couple of times. But after Williams followed up a missed shot by Gatlin for a 55-54 Maryland lead, the Wolfpack outscored Maryland, 8-2. After that, it was nothing but desperation for Maryland.

"We got away from doing what got us the lead," Lewis said of Maryland. "We've got to realize we've got to go inside. The outside shots were there, but sometimes we had the advantage inside. We didn't get the ball to the right people and we didn't take enough time off the clock."