By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Maryland is off to its worst start in the ACC since 1993 and is one loss away from being tied for last in the 12-team conference. The Terrapins' hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 fade with each defeat.
But despite recent struggles, Coach Gary Williams is intent on maintaining a glass-half-full approach when publicly appraising his team. He said yesterday he was proud of the way his team competed in Sunday's overtime loss at Virginia Tech and vowed: "We're going to be around; we're going to win games. We proved some things to ourselves at Virginia Tech."
Williams, whose team plays host to Georgia Tech (13-5, 2-3) tonight at Comcast Center, believes it is important to keep a positive front so his players will remain confident despite putting forth effort that has not necessarily translated into victories.
"That's why you don't get down on your team after a loss at Virginia Tech," Williams said. "You tell them you are proud of them and how hard they worked to get in position . . . to win the game in the last possession. You stay very positive in your coaching and make sure your players feel the same way."
To fuel his own optimism, Williams often reflects upon previous teams that overcame hurdles during the regular season. But he does not share these memories with his players because, for them, this season is about their experiences this year. For instance, he said he has thought about the 2000-01 team that lost six ACC games by Valentine's Day but rallied to reach the Final Four.
"For myself, there are a lot of things that have happened during my career where it didn't look really good," Williams said, "and then all of a sudden we put ourselves in position to be in great shape by the end of the year. There is a long way to go yet."
Having already lost one home game, to Miami, Maryland (15-5, 1-4) cannot afford another. The Terrapins have won only four of their past 19 ACC road games, an indication that they likely will not make up ground away from Comcast Center.
Williams, who did not permit players to speak to the media yesterday, said he is surprised by the 1-4 conference record but will choose to view it as just five of 16 conference games.
A common thread in all four ACC losses this season has been poor rebounding. Maryland has been outrebounded in every ACC loss, prompting Williams to ask a reporter: "Do you have any secrets on rebounding? Neither do I."
Inconsistent shooting also has been a problem in at least two of the losses. Maryland shot 22 percent against Miami and 29 percent in the second half against Virginia Tech. Against the Hokies, Williams said, his team for the most part had good looks at the basket, particularly at the end of the game.
Georgia Tech, on the other hand, enters tonight's game as the ACC leader in shooting percentage, making 50.7 percent of its field goal attempts. The Yellow Jackets are led by two freshmen, forward Thaddeus Young and guard Javaris Crittenton, two former McDonald's all-Americans.
The 6-foot-5 Crittenton is second in the ACC in assists, averaging 5.7 per game, and has led Georgia Tech in scoring during ACC play, averaging 16.4 points per league game. The 6-8 Young adds a team-best 14.5 points per game and has made 41.1 percent of his three-point attempts.
The Yellow Jackets, however, have struggled on the road even more than the Terrapins in recent years. Georgia Tech has lost 15 straight road games, including 12 in a row in the ACC.
"At some point, people have to look at the league," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said. "I think it speaks more to the competition more than our failings. In order to be an NCAA tournament team, you probably have to win one or two on the road, and we would like to win more than that."