Lefty Driesell was standing in the corner of his team's tiny locker room Wednesday night, waiting for his players to finish dressing so he could escape Memorial Coliseum.
The Maryland basketball coach looked tired and confused. Upset. Worried. "I just don't know what to do right now," he said after the Terrapins' 67-60 loss to Wake Forest. "I don't know if I should yell and scream and stomp or if I should just hug them and tell them I still love them, anyway."
Driesell's confusion is shared. No one connected with the Maryland basketball team knows what to do. All season, the Terrapins have assumed everything would fall into place because it did so last year. But that has not happened.
This is still the same gifted group it was such a pleasure to watch a year ago. The players are the same; the team is not.
"We're not rebounding at all, and we're still turning the ball over all the time," said center Buck Williams. "We're just not playing with the same kind of intensity or the same kind of confidence we had a year ago."
The 1979-80 Terps were an emotional, driven group. Picked for sixth place in the Atlantic Coast Conference in preseason, they had something to prove from the outset. From start to finish, they played -- and practiced -- hard.
"We kept hearing we couldn't play," said Ernest Graham. "We went out every day and ran and ran and ran until our tongues hung out. We made people play out style. This year, we do that for a while, then we relax, let the other team play its style."
"Relax" may be the key word. This team has been relaxed all year. You cannot be "laid back" and rebound. You cannot be loose and have the kind of concentration needed to execute effectively in the ACC.
In December, when the team's performance was spotty against weak teams, Driesell kept saying his players would be ready for the big games.
Thus far, he has been wrong. Wednesday's loss was the nadir because the Terps came into an important game -- one they had pointed for -- and were completely flat.
The reason the game was close was that Wake was almost as flat.
The Terps are 5-3 in the conference and aren't about to catch the Virginia juggernaut. They are not likely to catch North Carolina, either. That leaves them fighting Wake for third place and with a 15-5 record, fighting to reach the 20 victories they need to ensure themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Saturday's game at Duke suddenly looms as a big test. The Blue Devil's (12-8) have won five of six, appear to have adopted to new Coach Mike Krzyzewski's system and are always tough at home.
Another loss would put Maryland at 15-6 and would probably drop it from the top 20 for the first time this year, with Carolina, Wake, and Virginia still to be played again.
Driesell says he has no idea what to do to get his team playing hard again.
Albert King said it is impossible to blame a single player or any one thing for the Terps' malaise. Each game brings a different problem.
Driesell appears to have settled on Reggie Jackson as his point guard. Although Jackson, along with Graham, was one of the few Terps to play well here, Driesell must recognize the worth of Dutch Morley. The 6-foot-2 junior is still the team's best playmaker and his court sense may be much needed in the crucial games ahead.
"I ain't down on Dutch at all," Driesell said. "He just wasn't feeling too good against Wake. Maybe I should have played him more."
However, unless this team can recapture last season's intensity, it won't matter who plays the point.Emotion is a key commodity in a league where, as Driesell once put it, "There's a fine line between being a genius and being stupid." Right now, the Terps are teetering on the edge.