Do it right or do it wrong, Maryland can't seem to win an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball game, so the Terrapins will undergo yet another lineup change this week. That makes eight to date, exactly double their league losses.
Maryland's 70-49 loss at Virginia on Sunday had several implications but foremost was that the Terrapins (10-6, 0-4 in the ACC) must find some way to regroup if they are to be a factor in the conference, and their schedule does not get much easier. They meet North Carolina State at Cole Field House Thursday, and Coach Charles G. Driesell said yesterday he would bench center Terry Long, again, and start Tom (Speedy) Jones in an effort to get improved inside play.
What made the loss to Virginia particularly damaging was not just the surprisingly one-sided score, but that the Terrapins had seemed on the verge of becoming a better team than anyone reckoned. Their three previous ACC losses had been by a total of 11 points, all to national top-five teams -- Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina -- in an 11-day period. From that perspective, their conference record is not as bad as it appears.
"I don't think it's all that significant," Driesell said. "We've lost to three of the best teams in the country and lost one on the road. Those things tend to even out."
But for the first time, Maryland experienced the full, disastrous implications of becoming a one-man team, relying too much on all-America forward Len Bias. He was shut down, relatively speaking, with 19 points against Virginia's diamond-and-one defense, and no other Terrapins were in double figures. If that becomes a regular occurrence, things assuredly will not even out.
"Maryland doesn't have that other player, like Adrian Branch last year," Virginia's Olden Polynice said. "They look to Len all the time. He's averaging 22.5 a game, but Keith (Gatlin) is the next guy at nine a game. They're really going to suffer until they find somebody else. Not even Lenny, as great as he is, can do it by himself in this league."
A couple of statistics against Virginia made it obvious how Maryland suffers when no one emerges. Baxter and Gatlin were eight for 23 from the field, Lewis shot just twice and Long not at all in the second half, and Maryland averaged .67 of a point per possession, according to Driesell, "the lowest I can ever remember."
Until Virginia, the Terrapins had gotten by with various individual highs; at different times Derrick Lewis, Gatlin and Jeff Baxter have had good numbers to help out Bias. But they are inconsistent, and it is telling that only Bias is averaging in double figures.
Gatlin, a streak shooter who can be an inventive playmaker, showed glimpses of his ability with 12 points against Georgia Tech. But otherwise he has not seemed fully comfortable in the offense. Baxter had 15 points against North Carolina, his season-high, but he shot four for 13 against the Cavaliers, with four turnovers. He averages 8.8 points.
Lewis, Maryland's best defensive player, also has shown scoring potential, with 16 points against Georgia Tech. But he has a habit of disappearing offensively, averages 8.6, and took just six shots at Virginia.
Long had 11 against Georgia Tech, but averages 3.6.
"We're not going to win that way, with one good game and then nothing the next game," Driesell said.
Another problem is the Terrapins' inability to get Bias, who has the best leaping abililty in the ACC, the ball effectively inside. He has relied almost exclusively on the jumper, and against Virginia he had just one offensive rebound.
"We've got one of the best inside players in the league, and we don't get it to him," Driesell said. "Obviously we've got to get the ball to him. It's a case of being more patient, waiting for a better shot."
Bias was not the only one who could not get inside. Long had two rebounds and two points, and neither he nor Lewis shot a free throw all game.
That was the basis for Driesell's decision to start the 6-6 Jones, who managed seven rebounds Sunday and will be counted on to do the same against N.C. State's impressive front court, starring 6-11 center Chris Washburn. Lewis will move to the middle defensively.
"We got nothing from the inside game," Driesell said of the Charlottesville misadventure. "That Long and Lewis didn't shoot a free throw proves that they didn't do anything . . . Speedy shot awful but at least he rebounded."
While most of Maryland's troubles could be explained, there was no accounting for the Terrapins' overall lifeless performance. Compared to Virginia's upset-mindedness -- the Cavaliers had not beaten them since 1982-1983 -- the mood was generally lethargic.
"Coming off those tough losses, maybe they thought they were better than they were," Driesell said. "Maybe they thought they could just walk out there and it would be automatic. Emotionally, Virginia just jumped us."