It is time for the Maryland basketball team to panic.
That seems to be the only solution left for the Terrapins after tonight's 67-60 Atlantic Coast Conference loss to Wake Forest. Again, the Terps had every chance to win against an opponent that seemed more than willing to be a victim.
Instead, the Terps ended up victims, largely because they shot 36 percent in the second half and because they could not control superquick Deacon guard Frank Johnson at either end of the floor.
"Maybe we're just vastly overrated," Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said.
"I just told the players that we got to get better because we sure can't get any worse."
The Terps, all but out of it in their defense of the ACC regular-season title, slid to 5-3 in conference play, 15-5 overall. Eighth-ranked Wake rose to 5-2 in the ACC and 17-2 in all games.
"It's gotten to the point where we've run out of answers," said guard Greg Manning. We've all got to quit worrying and looking for answers and just go out and play basketball."
This game was more a case of Maryland's losing than Wake's winning. Although the Terps led just once in the second half, they trailed by only 54-53 and had the ball with 4:53 left when Driesell called a timeout.
Manning tried an 18-footer that rimmed out, and Wake Forest's Alvis Rogers, who had 15 points, swished a 20-foot jump shot for a 56-53 lead with 4:15 left. Albert King made two foul shots to cut the lead back to one, but from there the Terps collapsed.
Rogers scored on a drive to make it 58-55. Mike Helms stole a Manning pass and fed Guy Morgan (15 points) for a short jumper: 60-55. King, who did not make a field goal during the last 17 minutes of the game, lost the ball to Helms on the baseline.
Morgan made one free throw at the other end, then Manning and Buck Williams -- who had only seven points and eight rebounds in perhaps his worst game this season -- each missed.
Johnson, who had 11 points and a school-record 14 assists, many set up by his five steals, fed Morgan for a dunk. King missed again; Rogers rebounded and fed Helms for an easy layup with 1:20 left for a 10-point lead.
"The thing we did best was keep them from getting the ball inside to Buck and Albert," said Johnson, who seemed everywhere defensively and in control offensively. "They spent the whole night shooting jump shots. That was really key for us."
This was a big game, especially for Maryland, which had played poorly in two wins last week and had pointed to this game as a watershed for almost two weeks. The Terps played as if they meant business for the first six minutes, quickly building a 20-12 lead.
But Johnson brought the Deacs back. He fed Rogers for a three-point play, then made consecutive steals for layups to cut the lead to 20-19. It stayed close the rest of the half. Johnson finally put Wake in front with 1:16 left when he picked up a loose ball -- one of Maryland's 16 first-half turnovers -- and dashed past both Manning and Reggie Jackson for a three-point play to make it 28-26. That was the margin at the half, 34-32.
Only Ernie Graham and Jackson, the two players who have often been blamed for this team's troubles, played well the second half. Graham had 19 points six rebounds and showed the life other lacked. Jackson was four for four from the floor, hitting three of those shots during an eight-point Terp spurt that gave them their last lead, 39-38, with 15 minutes to go.
Wake ran off the next six points to take a 44-39 lead with 13:40 left and from that point on the Terps had to play catch-up. Four times they cut the lead to one, but they could never get in front and the Deacons finally put them away when no Terrapin could buy a basket.
King clearly again was ineffective in the second half. He finished the game making just five of 15 shots from the floor, and said afterward: "Some nights you just don't play well, but people shouldn't forget that I'm not the only player on this team." The implication was that he is not alone in sub-par play, and tonight's statistics bear that out.
Williams was three for nine, failing to hit double figures for the first time this season. Manning was four for nine. In addition to failing to click offensively, Williams was burned for 16 points by Wake center Jim Johnstone, who bears little resemblence to Ralph Sampson.
"It's gotten to the point where we're doubting ourselves," Williams said. "We're hesitating, not sure whether to shoot or pass. We're not being aggressive. It's like no one wants to make the big mistake."