COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s effort to make history at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is being driven by memories of a team that bucked similar odds to become unlikely champions.
The Terrapins (18-13, 7-9) have lost three straight, including a 14-point drubbing at home against Virginia on Saturday. That ruined any chance Maryland had to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
And so, if the Terrapins are to avoid an unwanted trip to the NIT, they must win the ACC tournament as the seventh seed. Problem is, no team has ever won four straight games at the event.
But the Terps have their own bit of history to draw upon this week in Greensboro, N.C.
“The year 2004, when they took it all,” freshman guard Terrell Stoglin said.
Seven years ago, sixth-seeded Maryland beat the Nos. 3, 2 and 1 seeds to win the title. The capper was an overtime win over Duke, which was seeking its sixth consecutive ACC title.
“Coach (Gary Williams) keeps talking to us about that,” Stoglin said. “So we’re confident we can do it.”
The Terrapins open Thursday night against North Carolina State, a team they defeated 87-80 on Feb. 20. If Maryland wins, its next opponent will be Duke, which swept the season series.
Well, the Terrapins don’t want to get ahead of themselves.
“I think the best thing for now is to take it game by game and not think about we have to win four,” sophomore center Jordan Williams said. “Whoever we play, we’re going to play hard and we’re going to play to win. We’re going down to Greensboro to win the tournament championship. That’s what we want to do.”
For that to happen, Maryland must play better than it has in the weeks leading up to the tournament. After their signature victory, an 78-62 rout of Florida State on Feb. 23, the Terrapins were handily defeated at North Carolina and Miami before falling flat against Virginia on Senior Day.
In each of those losses, Maryland stumbled at the outset, made a decent run and then faded down the stretch.
“It’s correctible,” said Stoglin, the team’s second-leading scorer behind Williams. “We’ve just got to want to win. We have spots when we want to win the game, and we come back all the time. But we’ve got to start from the beginning.”
Gary Williams has been preaching that since October, but last weekend he was forced to remind the players that emotion is just as important as a sweet jump shot or boxing out under the basket.
“You have your offenses and your defenses and things like that, but a lot of times in close games, games that mean something, it comes down to other things: Your ability to get loose balls, how you react to adversity in the game and just getting ready to play,” the coach said. “In the first four minutes of the game you have to show the officials, you have to show the crowd, how hard you are playing, how you’re flying around.”
Maryland could also some balanced scoring. Five players reached double figures in the win over Florida State, but Williams is the only one to score in double digits in each of the last three games.
“We’re certainly open to guys playing really well and taking over,” Gary Williams said.
If the Terrapins don’t give Jordan Williams some offensive help against N.C. State, and if they fail to get off to a decent start, then they will be forced to do so in the NIT.
“We’re a tough team. We’ve got the players to do it,” freshman guard Pe’Shon Howard said. “We’ve got coach Williams, players like Terrell and Jordan. I think when we go to the tournament we’re going to give our best effort. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised. A lot of people are counting us out right now, but I really think we’re going to do well. So I’m not really worried about it.”
The Terps are in a slump, but Gary Williams remains optimistic.
“I really believe we’re going to go down there and play well,” he said, “so we’ll see.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)