COLLEGE PARK -- Five days after Maryland proved it could win on the road, the Terps must show they can play at the palace.
The luxurious Dean Dome, a k a the Smith Center, is the setting for tonight's Atlantic Coast Conference game between Maryland (11-7, 4-4) and 12th-ranked North Carolina (16-5, 7-2).
It's a game that will underscore the Terps' resurgence or send them spiraling to another defeat in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Maryland's seniors are 0-for-the-Dome in three tries. In the previous two seasons, with Joe Smith leading the charge, the Terps lost by 10 (100-90) and by six (95-89).
Overall, the Terps' four seniors -- Johnny Rhodes, Duane Simpkins, Exree Hipp and Mario Lucas -- are 1-8 against Carolina. And that includes a wrenching, 88-86 overtime loss at Cole Field House on Jan. 6.
As soon as Maryland dispatched Georgia Tech on Saturday, Simpkins started thinking about Carolina.
"It means a lot," he said of his last visit as a player to the Dome. "I said to a few guys after the Georgia Tech game: 'I haven't won down there since I've been here.' It'd be really nice to win there before I leave."
But . . .
"We never play well down there, to be honest," Simpkins said. "For whatever reason, that particular night, we didn't play well and they did."
Obviously, it has a lot to do with a Carolina team that for the past 31 consecutive years has finished in the top three during the ACC's regular season. Maryland coach Gary Williams called that "the most amazing record" of all coach Dean Smith's achievements.
"You can't do that," Williams said, marveling. "You've got to have that one down year when things don't go right."
But this isn't the year. The Tar Heels are tied for first in the ACC with Wake Forest, and are 7-0 at home. In the space of five days, Carolina overturned deficits of 18 points (against Wake) and 17 points (against Duke) to win at home.
The Terps' last victory at Carolina was on Feb. 17, 1990, when Williams notched a sweep of the Tar Heels in his first season at Maryland. If there is an aura of intimidation at the Dean Dome, Williams won't acknowledge it.
"I don't think our players feel that place is any worse than any of the others," he said. There are a lot of tough places to play in the league. Why Carolina is such a tough place to play is because they are so good."
The Terps were toppled last month by Antawn Jamison, Carolina's fabulous freshman. Jamison pumped in 31 points, hitting 14 of 16 shots, including the game-winner in overtime on an improbable pass from Dante Calabria lying on the floor.
"We weren't aware of how aggressive he is around the basket," Rhodes said of Jamison. "He's made a mark since then. He's one of the guys we have to look for."
Having posted their first road win of the ACC season Thursday at Virginia, and having won five of their past six games, the Terps approach Chapel Hill with momentum and optimism.
"It took us awhile," Rhodes said, "but I think we're really peaking right now. Everybody is having a good time, everybody has a clear head."
Perhaps not everybody. In the wake of the win over Tech, Hipp complained about his playing time and Simpkins voiced his displeasure with critics of the team. Simpkins was particularly upset by a story in the school newspaper.
"It said we're underachievers, we don't do this, we don't do that," he said. "That stuff hurts."
Even if the criticism has subsided with the Terps' recent successes, Simpkins knows it's never far away. "You know in the back of your mind, if you lose the next game, [people will say] 'They're back to their inconsistent play.' "
Williams, meanwhile, did not find it necessary to talk with Hipp about his call for more minutes in games.
"I'm the coach," Williams said. "The guys who play will be our best team on the floor. That's what's important. If Laron Profit's playing well, he'll be out on the floor. If [Terrell] Stokes is playing well, he'll be out on the floor.
"You don't give playing time just to satisfy people's egos, or whatever it is. You give playing time because you think that's the right combination to win games. That's the way it'll always be."
ACC honors Booth
Keith Booth, who led Maryland to two victories, was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week.
Booth had career highs of 27 points and 16 rebounds against Virginia on Thursday night, then scored 15 and pulled down eight rebounds against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
A 6-foot-5 forward from Dunbar, he has scored in double figures in 12 consecutive games and in 17 of Maryland's 18 games this season.
Harold Jamison of Clemson was named Rookie of the Week.