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Little consolation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the Maryland players sat around their quiet dressing room at Charlotte Bobcats Arena, Thursday night's disheartening 71-68 loss to Boston College in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament turned into Friday morning's disturbing reality for most members of a team bound for the National Invitation Tournament.

With the exception of senior center Bambale Osby, who doesn't want his career as a Terp to end just yet, the NCAA's consolation tournament might stand for Nominal Interest There. The prospects of a three-hour practice seemed more inviting to some, especially sophomore guard Greivis Vasquez.

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"I'm not really excited about it, but it's playing basketball, and that's what I love to do," Vasquez said. "Maybe we can win the NIT."

Asked how difficult it would be to get motivated to play in the NIT after making the NCAA tournament last season, Vasquez was typically blunt.

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"It's going to be hard," he said. "I just can't see myself there, but it is what it is. We had plenty of opportunities. We just didn't take it."

Said sophomore guard Eric Hayes: "The NIT is a pretty big tournament. It's not the real thing, but it could be a pretty big accomplishment to win that."

Maryland has played in the NIT in two of the past three seasons.

The Terps reached the semifinals at Madison Square Garden in 2005, losing to South Carolina. But the game most Maryland fans remember is a first-round loss at home to Manhattan two years ago, coming eight days after losing to Boston College in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

Maryland coach Gary Williams will try to spin the NIT in a way that will appeal to his players, if not the team's fans who are expected to stay away from Comcast Center as if it were quarantined. Athletic department officials recently filled out forms requesting to host the first round or two, starting Tuesday or Wednesday.

"We've got six freshmen," Williams said after the loss to an 11th-seeded Boston College team that had lost six straight and 12 of 13. "I want to see some more things that we can do. And it's a good showcase for guys like James [Gist]. As things move along, you win a couple of games, you get a pretty good look. So there's a lot of good things with it."

The Terps (18-14), who were seeded sixth in the ACC, returned to College Park yesterday after losing a game that typified their late-season collapse: Maryland blew most of its early 15-point lead by halftime, then all of an 11-point lead early in the second half, falling behind by as many as 10 before making a run that, like the team's NCAA tournament prospects, fell short.

"It's been a roller coaster the whole year," Vasquez said. "I'm disappointed. I'm pretty down right now. I take it hard. I'm partly responsible. That's how life is. You've got to just take a hit and learn and see what happens."

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It was Maryland's fifth loss in its past six games and sixth in its past eight, and it marked the third time recently that the Terps had blown a double-digit lead in the second half. It wasn't as monumental as the 20-point second-half collapse at home against Clemson, but it was typical of the team's season-long struggles.

"We blew it down the stretch of the season, and we blew it down the stretch of games," Osby said. "It was like we just couldn't finish. We just didn't have the poise to finish out the season, to finish out the games. That's how it went."

Said Hayes: "It was like deja vu. This game and the last two or three other games we lost, we were playing well in the beginning of the game, the second half we came out and didn't play well at all. It was like a domino effect."

Osby, ever the optimist, is hoping to tell his teammates not to give up on the season.

"We've still got a chance to win a championship," he said, "and a lot of teams can't win a championship. That's how I feel, and that's the message I want to get across."

The way Maryland has played lately, it might be too late.

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don.markus@baltsun.com



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