COLLEGE PARK -- As Virginia Tech began a steady parade to the free-throw line at Comcast Center late Wednesday night in the process of sealing a 69-65 victory, a frustrated group of Maryland students started chanting derisively.
"NIT ... NIT ... NIT," they yelled.
The students were directing their taunts at the Hokies, but they could have been referring to their Terrapins as well.
For the first time in nearly two months, Maryland looked like a team that was headed to March's secondary event and not one that has recently looked to be one going to the NCAA tournament.
The Terps frittered away nearly all of an early 14-point lead by halftime, then blew all of their 11-point lead early in the second half. Long offensive droughts in both halves, and small offensive contributions from three starters and none from its bench, led to Maryland losing a game it should have easily won.
While the defeat dropped the now 17-10 Terps into a third-place tie with Clemson (19-7) in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 7-5 records, it left Maryland in the precarious position of having to win at least two of its four remaining league games. The Terps play three of those on the road, including tomorrow at Miami.
Asked whether his team looked like the one that lost to American and Ohio in December, Maryland coach Gary Williams said tersely, "No, I thought we looked like a team that had won 10 of its last 12 games against ACC competition."
Williams knew that wasn't the case.
Sophomore guard Greivis Vasquez, despite leading Maryland with 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists, made poor decisions, particularly down the stretch, contributing to his six turnovers and some questionable shots.
But Vasquez was the least of Maryland's problems.
Senior forward James Gist got into early foul trouble after Maryland built a 28-14 lead and never seemed to get in sync, finishing with just seven points and five turnovers. It was Gist's lowest offensive output since scoring three against American.
Sophomore guard Eric Hayes, who has been in a three-game shooting slump, missed six of eight shots and scored seven points. Coming off a career-high 18 points against Florida State, sophomore forward Landon Milbourne scored eight.
And then there was the bench. With Gist, Vasquez and senior center Bambale Osby sitting out a chunk of the first half with two fouls each, the Terps went more than seven minutes without scoring and led by two, 31-29, at halftime.
Not a single bench player scored, despite playing for a total of 38 minutes.
"We need them [the reserves] to step up," Vasquez said.
"It's hard," he said, his voice cracking and his eyes red.
The defeat comes when the Terps are headed into road trips to Miami tomorrow and Wake Forest on Thursday. Both teams beat Duke this week at home.
"When you play close games, you're not going to make every shot," Williams said. "That game shouldn't have been that close."