As the Maryland men's basketball team prepares for tonight's game against Tulane in the second round of the Preseason NIT, the Terrapins' biggest concern is the health of freshman point guard Steve Blake.

Blake, Maryland's lone point guard on scholarship, sprained his left foot when Terence Morris fell on him with five minutes remaining in Wednesday's 71-61 victory against San Francisco. Blake returned to play in offensive situations in the final two minutes, but appeared uncomfortable putting weight on the foot.

X-rays of the foot were negative. Maryland Coach Gary Williams said before yesterday's practice that he expects Blake to be ready to play tonight.

"I guess he is okay, as far as I know," Williams said.

Blake appeared nervous in his first collegiate game, finishing with six turnovers to go with his six assists. But Williams praised Blake's ability to get the Terrapins in their half-court offense, particularly during a critical stretch in the second half after Maryland's lead was cut from 16 points to two.

The Terrapins' best point guard option other than Blake is shooting guard Juan Dixon, who had no experience playing the point before spelling Blake Wednesday night. If Blake is unable to play or is limited because of the injury, Maryland might go with a big lineup by inserting 7-footer Mike Mardesich at center and sliding 6-8 forward Danny Miller to shooting guard. Or the Terrapins could insert freshman guard Drew Nicholas into the starting lineup.

While Maryland does not have much depth this season, Blake is perhaps the team's most important player. The only true point guard in uniform other than Blake is senior walk-on Matt Hahn. Maryland has been trying Nicholas at the point in practice and he could see some time there, though Williams would prefer to keep a backcourt of Blake and Dixon.

"We can't afford to lose many guys this year," Williams said. "I think any injury would not be good this year, compared to last year" when the Terrapins had more depth.

This will be Maryland's first meeting with Tulane. Williams said yesterday he had yet to see a videotape of Tulane's first-round 80-69 victory over Fordham. Perhaps Maryland's best scouting reports will come from junior forward Byron Mouton, who transferred from Tulane this past summer and is sitting out this season as mandated by NCAA rules.

Williams said he expects his team to play more consistently and rebound better tonight than it did against San Francisco. Tonight's winner will advance to the Preseason NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday against the winner of tonight's game between 14th-ranked Kentucky and 16th-ranked Utah.

Tulane Coach Perry Clark, a former assistant coach at DeMatha High School, said he hopes his team, with its three-guard offense, is able to handle Maryland's pressure defense. In preseason predictions, Conference USA's coaches picked Tulane to finish last in the conference's six-team National Division.

"Gary is going to press you and make you make decisions and force tempo," said Clark, who plans to move 6-7 senior forward Sterling Davis into the starting lineup tonight after Davis had 19 points and seven rebounds against Fordham. "We need to make good decisions and know when to shoot and when to pull it out. . . . It is so early and they've got some new faces, so hopefully they are not as fluid as they are going to be in late December or early January."

Terrapins Note: Prior to the game, Athletic Director Debbie Yow will present Williams with a plaque to commemorate his 400th career victory on Wednesday.

NOTRE DAME 107, SIENA 96: Troy Murphy scored 31 points to lead the Irish in South Bend, Ind., in the second round of the Preseason NIT. Notre Dame (2-0) will play the winner of tonight's New Mexico State-Arizona game in next week's semifinals.

The Irish committed 27 turnovers, but made 32 of 53 (60 percent) shots from the field and 10 of 19 from three-point range.

Notre Dame opened a seven-point lead in the first half on a rare five-point play. Martin Ingelsby hit a three-pointer and then referees ruled he was fouled after the shot. Ingelsby sank both free throws to put the Irish up 29-22.

Preseason NIT

First Round

Maryland 71, San Francisco 61

Tulane 80, Fordham 69

No. 16 Utah 76, Arkansas St. 43

No. 14 Kentucky 67, Penn 50

Siena 89, Davidson 79

Notre Dame 59, No. 4 Ohio State 57

New Mexico St. 69, Hofstra 55

No. 10 Arizona 88, Kansas State 69


Last night

Notre Dame 107, Siena 96


Tulane at Maryland, 8 p.m.

Tickets: Available.

Radio: WMAL-630, WBAL-1090.

Utah at Kentucky, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

New Mexico State at Arizona, 11:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Semifinals, Wednesday

At Madison Square Garden

Notre Dame vs. New Mexico State-Arizona winner, 6 or 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Maryland-Tulane winner vs. Utah-Kentucky winner, 6 or 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Finals, Nov. 26

At Madison Square Garden

Third Place, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Championship, 9 p.m. (ESPN)