After fall in finale, Terps get up for ACC


COLLEGE PARK - The best thing the Maryland Terrapins can say about their regular-season finale is, despite how uninspired they looked at times, they still had a chance to escape Virginia's University Hall with a victory.

But in the wake of Sunday's 80-78 defeat in overtime to the unranked, struggling Cavaliers - a game that gave Virginia its first regular-season sweep of Maryland since the 1993-94 season - the No. 14 Terps have more soul-searching to do, as they focus on winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament for the first time in 19 years.

"I don't think we were tired. We hadn't played in a week," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps are the ACC's No. 2 seed and will face seventh-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals Friday.

"We were not as excited as I would have liked to have seen us be at the start of the game. I don't know why. This team has done a good job of getting ready to play for the most part."

Maryland showed flashes of fight, particularly at the end of regulation and overtime.

With four of their seniors sharing the scoring load, the Terps erased a 58-51 deficit with a 20-12 run that consumed more than nine minutes. Senior point guard Steve Blake, held scoreless all night, made a three-pointer to give Maryland a 71-70 lead with 1:24 left, then fed senior center Ryan Randle for a game-tying jam that forced overtime.

The Terps (19-8, 11-5) then fell behind 79-74 with 2:10 left in overtime, before cutting it to 79-78 on another Blake three with 1:13 to go. The Cavaliers missed three of four free throws, but held on because Maryland could not duplicate its come-from-behind victory at N.C. State by making clutch shots.

First, Blake's go-ahead three-point attempt was long with 19 seconds left. Then, after Cavaliers forward Elton Brown missed two free throws, the Terps called a timeout with 14 seconds left, setting in motion a painful sequence.

Senior guard Drew Nicholas, who beat N.C. State a week earlier with a last-second three-pointer, watched his 27-footer rim out with five seconds left. After a free throw by Virginia center Travis Watson, Blake threw up a desperation air ball from the left corner, which Randle grabbed in front of the rim and missed after trying a two-handed lay-in instead of a slam.

"I've had an up-and-down season. I haven't been as consistent as I'm supposed to be," said Randle, who got abused down low for much of the night - even by senior center Jason Rogers.

Rogers started because it was Senior Night, and he symbolized Virginia's energy by producing three early blocked shots before finishing with 12 points and six rebounds. Not bad for a guy who played a total of 14 minutes this season before Sunday.

But this loss, which ended a three-game winning streak and kept the Terps from reaching their school-record seventh straight 20-victory season, came down to simple hard work around the glass, where Maryland's frontcourt never matched Virginia's hunger.

Virginia, which had lost seven straight since upsetting the Terps in College Park on Feb. 6, set the tone by grabbing 17 of the game's first 20 rebounds, then went on to finish with 59 rebounds to Maryland's 36.

"Every time we made a little run, we couldn't keep [Virginia] from getting second shots," said Williams, whose team stayed in contention by forcing 21 turnovers.

Watson led the way with 15 rebounds, the same number as the Terps' entire four-man post rotation managed. Senior forward Tahj Holden combined another off-night shooting (2-for-7) with only two rebounds in 34 minutes. Junior backup center Jamar Smith's four rebounds were tempered by four missed dunks on a miserable shooting night (2-for-10).

And for the second straight game, Blake showed a fine floor game but took 38 minutes to get on the scoreboard. In his past two games, Blake has 17 assists and two turnovers, but has scored just eight points on 3-for-17 shooting, including 2-for-11 from three-point range.

Maryland, which has lost twice as many games as last year's national championship team, will seek to handle the Tar Heels one more time, after sweeping the regular-season series by a combined 55 points. A quarterfinal victory should bring a rematch with No. 3 seed Duke in Saturday's semifinals.

Unlike last year, when the Terps had a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs sewn up before the conference tournament, Maryland could play its way down to a fifth seed with a poor showing this weekend. The Terps also could seal a No. 3 seed by winning the tournament.

"We're going down there to win the tournament. That would be something that last year's team didn't do," Williams said. "We'll be ready to play."

NOTE: Williams said Nicholas is expected to practice at full speed today after jamming his foot late in Sunday night's game.

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