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Terps hope ACC chase becomes regular thing

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland coach Gary Williams and his players don't like to talk about the goals they set as a team this season, but winning at least 20 games and contending for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title were at least two of them.

The seventh-ranked Terrapins won No. 20 with Sunday's 74-72 victory over Cincinnati at the Alamodome in San Antonio, marking the first time a Maryland team has done that in 10 years and the first time one of Williams' teams has done it since Ohio State in 1988-89.

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Now the Terps are focusing on their next goal: winning the school's first ACC regular-season championship since 1979-80, and only their third in the 41-year history of the league. With two weeks remaining before the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., they are in the middle of the hunt. A half-game behind first-place Virginia and North Carolina, Maryland (20-5, 9-3) will try to keep pace when it plays host to North Carolina State (12-10, 4-8) at Cole Field House tonight at 8. Maryland is 14-0 at home this season.

A year ago, the Terps had a tendency to look ahead to their bigger games, especially when they needed a couple of wins to get into the NCAA tournament. With a bid to this year's tournament assured, Williams hopes his players can narrow their focus.

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"Our players went through it last year when they were freshmen and sophomores, and hopefully we learned from it," said Williams, who'll be looking for his 100th win at Maryland. "We have to just approach every game the same way and not worry about anything else. Hopefully we'll concentrate on whoever we're playing."

Said sophomore forward Keith Booth: "We've done a good job all season of preparing for the next game. That's one of the reasons we've got 20 wins. Right now North Carolina State is the only team on our minds."

With the season's final home game Saturday against Clemson, the schedule doesn't quite favor the Terps. Maryland must play its last two regular-season games at Duke and Virginia, with both coming in the midst of those teams honoring their seniors.

Among the contenders, Maryland is the only team that plays its final two conference games on the road. After a trip to Florida State on Saturday, North Carolina closes with home games against Wake Forest and Duke. The Cavaliers play at Georgia Tech tomorrow and at Wake Forest on Sunday before finishing with the Terps in a nationally televised game in Charlottesville.

Though tonight's game isn't quite a lock, Maryland hasn't lost to North Carolina State at home since 1989-90, the season Williams came back to his alma mater and Wolfpack coach Les Robinson came back to his. The Terps have won six of the past seven games against N.C. State.

"The timing is always important when you're playing a team, and it's a tough time to be playing N.C. State," said Williams, alluding to the Wolfpack's recent wins over Florida State and Duke. "They have a lot of confidence going right now."

The Terps will be looking to raise the level of their game to what it was when they upset North Carolina on Feb. 7. Since then, Maryland has sandwiched lackluster victories over Florida State and Cincinnati around their worst game of the season, a 63-54 loss to Wake Forest.

"Right now, we've had a couple of days to work on some things," said junior guard Johnny Rhodes. "We've gotten a little out of sync. But I think it's out of our system and we have to focus on N.C. State."

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ACC TIEBREAKERS

* In the event that two teams finish in a tie, the tie will be broken by their head-to-head record.

* If they split the two regular-season games, their respective records against the team with the best record will determine seeding.

* If three or more teams are tied, the team with the best combined record against the others will be used to determine seeding.

* If there is still a tie, a coin flip will be used to determine seeding.

TONIGHT'S GAME

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NORTH CAROLINA STATE (12-10) at NO. 7 MARYLAND (20-5)

Time: 8

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Outlook: The Terrapins have dominated this series the past six years, including an 84-67 win in Raleigh last month. N.C. State is coming in off wins over Florida State and Duke. Junior center Todd Fuller (15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg) was the ACC's Player of the Week last week, scoring 51 points, including a career-high 29 against the Seminoles. Senior guard Lakista McCuller (12.6 ppg) had 19 against Duke, going 6-for-7 from the field and 5-for-6 on threes. Junior forward Marcus Wilson has benefited from the suspension of Bryant Feggins, scoring 24 points the past two games.


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