"We're a free type of team and we like to play as you would in your backyard. That's fine if you're 10 for 10 from the floor or if you're up by 20. But when things get tougher, you have to run plays ."

Greg Manning, Maryland guard

"We work one hour every day on our offensive patterns. Then in a game, we don't run them ."

Buck Williams, Maryland forward

How does the talented but perplexing Maryland basketball team beat the No. 1 team in the country, Notre Dame, but crumble at home against Wake Forest and Virginia?

The question was brought up by the players at an impromptu meeting Sunday to discuss the pogo-stick pattern of the current season.

It was the first such meeting since the start of the season. In the calm but intense 45-minute session, the players agreed they need to do some simple things they haven't been doing: run offensive plays and mentally prepare for each game in a serious manner.

The Terrapins bring a 14-7 overall record and a 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference mark tonight to sixth-ranked North Carolina (WDMV-TV-9, 7:30). No Maryland player has been on a team that has beaten North Carolina.

"We can beat them. We know we can beat them," said guard Greg Manning, pounding a salt shaker on the lunchroom table. "To beat them, we have to have the same kind of teamwork they have.

"Everybody knows we're inconsistent. One game we look like we could win the NCAA tournament and the next game we look like we couldn't win a Southern Conference game. It all comes down to offensive control and self-discipline.

"We're a fast-break team. But if we don't score on the transition, sometimes we panic and feel like we have to hurry up and shoot it as soon as we get a halfway decent shot. Carolina passes the ball around against a zone (defense) 20 times. Rarely do we get it around five or six times.

"We have set plays. We have to have the self-discipline to use our plays. I believe it's a fault of everybody. There are a few who stand out more than others. We run our plays well. Everybody knows them.

"But in practice Coach is standing there with nobody in the stands. In a game it's a whole different situation... Coach can't come up to us on the floor and say, 'Do this.'

"We have to get somebody who can do this."

Other players echoed Manning's sentiments, noting the lack of a powerful offensive floor leader.

"We have to have more control, stay within our offensive patterns and run more plays," said power forward Buck Williams.

"I don't think we do have a floor leader right now, someone who has to take over all the time," said reserve forward John Bilney. "It's got to be somebody who can direct the tempo, be a field general. I'm not sure anyone on the team wants to step up and do that, or has the capacity to do it. Definitely, that somebody is missing, but that's not our main problem.

"We just have to play a little more together. We rush it. We're not patient. We get so riled up running that sometimes you just feel like any shot will go in. Maybe it gets back to roles, going to our strengths. For example, me going for that left-handed layup against Duke.I should have gotten the ball in to (center Larry) Gibson.We're not concentrating. We're not mentally prepared."

Maryland has in a sense turned its greatest asset into a liability. The Terps have an exceptional outside shooter in Graham and beautiful free-lance artists in both Graham and Al King. When Graham does such things as score 44 points against North Carolina State, it is difficult to convince him not to take 28-footers.

In Maryland's last two consecutive losses, Graham's shooting has been inconsistent. When Graham was unable to produce, there was panic, with other players taking bad shots and losing the ball.

"It's difficult to run your offense in a game, so sometimes you have to free-lance," said Williams. "But we free-lance more than we should."

The players blamed this on simple mental lapses. They also discussed curfews and the importance of preparation.

"We said that the night before a game, when we're checked in for curfew, we should get our rest, not stay up with the TVs on," said Bilney.

"Someone said, 'Let's just get the lights out and get in bed and be mentally prepared," said Manning. "Try to get more serious for a game.

"The night before the Notre Dame game there was no fooling around. Everyone went directly to bed. Everyone knew this was the biggest game since we've been here, maybe the biggest game since Coach (Lefty Driesell) has been here. In the locker room before the game, there was no joking around. Not much was said. Everyone was just thinking about what they had to do.

"The Virginia name was not taken that seriously."

Maryland's point guard position is being shuffled back and forth between two freshmen -- Dutch Morley and Reggie Jackson -- and neither has had time to cultivate command of the team.

King has been assuming some leadership, but it seems unsuited to him and throws off his game. He says, "Someone needs to talk up," and says it in a way that makes you believe he'd rather it not be him.

Jackson came up with some suggestions that the players approved, such as conducting huddles before each foul shot, just to get straight what defense they're running. He said there was confusion about this at Duke.

And some fans are pointing fingers at Driesell, although no player has faulted the coach.

"When things go bad, everybody (the public) criticizes Coach," said Manning. "But you can't fault Coach. We're the ones playing. This lack of intensity can't possibly be blamed on him.

"Coach is very intense, very enthusiastic and that's the way he wants his players to be. I've never seen him take one game lightly, not even Bucknell. We might have a better record if we tried to be more like him.

"We're doing things that Coach has nothing to do with -- throwing the ball away, taking bad shots. He can tell you not to do these things. We have to do it ourselves."

"Nobody can play for you," added Williams. "It's up to you."

"We can do the things we say we need to do," said Jackson. "It's just a matter of 15 guys wanting to do it."

Sources say there is no dissension like there was last year. "No team could be closer," Manning said. "I'd have to point to Duke. They have something I've never seen in basketball. They have togetherness, but also something else. Duke definitely has that something.

"Last year, we didn't have any of it. This year we have a little, but not like what Duke has.

"It's not something someone could write in a book. It's not something someone could tell you to do. It's something that just happens."

Can it happen for Maryland after 21 games?

"We'll find out," said King.