By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
In 2 1/2 seasons at Maryland, junior guard Eric Hayes has familiarized himself with nearly all of the spots on the Comcast Center court. Hayes prefers some -- such as the wing area, where he hit several crucial three-pointers in Saturday's win over Georgia Tech -- more than others. But the mere sense of comfort generated by repeated experience gives Hayes an edge over visiting opponents.
Knowledge of those spots, Hayes said, is one of the many advantages of playing at home. Likewise, playing true road games -- something the Terrapins have yet to do this season -- is more difficult for the same reason. Tonight, Maryland (12-3, 1-0 ACC) will take on Miami (12-3, 1-1) at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla., becoming the final Division I team in the country to play on an opponent's home court.
"It's definitely kind of weird that you haven't played a road game in  games, so it's gonna be different for some of the guys," Hayes said. "A lot of us are used to playing on the road in the ACC, but the Michigan State game down in Orlando, they had pretty much all Michigan State fans, so that kind of felt like a road game, but it really wasn't."
Indeed, Maryland has played four neutral-site games this season, going 2-2 in such environments. But the atmosphere, players said, is simply not the same. During a November trip to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic, the Terrapins played in front of roughly 4,000 fans whose allegiances were divided among eight teams.
Maryland's BB&T Classic win over George Washington in December was played at Verizon Center, located only about 11 miles from College Park.
There are distinct differences between playing on the road and playing at a neutral site, Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "But at the same time, it's the same thing. You put your team out there, they put their team out there and you play. I've never gone into a game worried about where I'm playing or anything like that. I worry about the other team. And I think for our guys, that's the important thing -- to worry about Miami."
The Terrapins have not won at Miami in three tries since the Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2004. But Williams said he looks back only as far as last season, when Maryland shot 37.1 percent and dropped a 78-63 decision.
Senior guard Jack McClinton once again leads the way for Miami. McClinton, the ACC's top returning three-point shooter, is averaging 16.9 points per game and shooting 46.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Balancing out McClinton's perimeter efforts is junior forward Dwayne Collins, who has emerged as a prominent post threat for the Hurricanes.
"A lot of teams, if they shoot threes, you can take care of that maybe with your defense or if they just throw the ball into the post, you can take care of that," Williams said. "But [against Miami] you have to watch how much help you give in the post or else you open up some guys for threes."
Though Miami was not as well rounded last season, the Hurricanes posted a 23-11 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Still, Miami was the only ACC team to average home crowds of fewer than 5,000. In nine home games this season, the Hurricanes have tallied more than 5,000 supporters only once.
"For some reason, they don't really get the support that they probably deserve," Hayes said. "It's probably one of the less loud crowds in the ACC."
For that reason, Terrapins such as freshman guard Sean Mosley might have an easier time adjusting to a more hostile crowd in his first college road game. In fact, Mosley said teammate Greivis Vasquez told him after Saturday's game that playing on the road is more fun than playing at home, in large part because it feels like everyone in the arena is against the visiting team.
The Terrapins will remain in Miami until Friday, when they will head north to Tallahassee in advance of Saturday's contest at Florida State. With Maryland's students out of class until Jan. 26, Williams and his players agreed that a change of scenery from a barren campus will do the team some good.
"Yeah, you know, I just need to get away for a minute, but it's not a vacation or something," Mosley said. "We have to go down there, handle our business and get these two wins."