Terrapins running out of time in tournament bid
Having squandered another opportunity to make an impression on a national scale, Maryland finds itself in a desperate situation as it strives to reach the NCAA tournament for a third successive season.
Hosting No. 5 Duke on Wednesday night, the Terrapins were backed by a wildly enthusiastic sellout crowd in their quest to secure an elusive signature victory. An inexplicable slow start, combined with poor shooting and an inconsistent defensive effort, produced a damaging 80-62 defeat.
The loss ended Maryland's three-game winning streak. If the Terrapins (14-8, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) don't finish strong, they will have to rely on a strong showing in the ACC tournament to avoid a dreaded trip to the NIT.
''We're 4-4 in the league, we've played Duke twice and I don't think anybody else has yet. That's where we are,'' coach Gary Williams said. ''We've got eight league games left. We've got a chance to win those games. We're going to have to work really hard and do a better job of executing in the games.''
Especially at the beginning. For the second time in their last three home games, the Terrapins came out flat. Two weeks ago, Maryland lost to Virginia Tech by 17. Against Duke, the Terrapins fell behind by 15 in the first half and never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
The frustrating part was that Maryland never really got to utilize the energy of a sign-carrying, emotionally charged crowd. With each Duke basket, the sound level dropped a few decibels. As the final seconds ticked down, the loudest sound in the Comcast Center was the basketball bouncing off the floor.
''We just didn't play with the energy and effort that was needed,'' senior guard Adrian Bowie said. ''They came out aggressive and punched us and we didn't react as quickly as we should have.''
A late surge enabled Maryland to get within seven at halftime and 56-51 with 9:20 remaining, but Duke's 50 percent shooting from the floor was just too much to overcome.
''We did a very poor job defensively,'' Williams said. ''It's a team thing. You have to get ready to play. You have to believe you can win that game, and that's what we have to work on.''
It's tough to win shooting 40 percent, including 2 for 9 from 3-point range, and getting outrebounded 34-31. The result: Maryland's worst home loss since an 82-64 defeat against Duke on Jan. 3, 1999.
The Terrapins are 0-4 in games against teams currently in the Top 25 - Pittsburgh, Villanova and Duke twice.
''We don't have a quality win under our belt,'' center Jordan Williams conceded.
The Terps have nine games left, eight in the ACC, including difficult road games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech. If Maryland is to make an impression on the NCAA tournament selection committee, it better happen soon.
''I feel like we can go 8-0 the rest of the way in conference play if we keep working every day in practice and get better and better,'' senior forward Dino Gregory said late Wednesday night. ''The next eight games are very important for our chances of going to the NCAA tournament. We had a lot of chances but didn't execute in those other games. We blew this one I guess, but we've got to look forward from here and keep on going.''
The stretch begins Saturday against lowly Wake Forest, but the Terrapins can't afford to take anyone - or anything - for granted.
''It's definitely a must-win game,'' Bowie said. ''We need it, and we've got to get it.''