The message from Maryland Coach Gary Williams was clear. With the 14th-ranked Terrapins stumbling through another sloppy performance, Williams sent his newest player -- football quarterback Calvin McCall -- into the game midway through the first half, a sign Williams was not pleased.
From the reaction of Maryland's players, the message was received. Loud and clear. McCall, who joined the team Dec. 14, immediately gave the Terrapins a boost with his enthusiastic play, and Maryland went on to rout Maryland-Baltimore County, 82-52, before an announced crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House.
"We came out lethargic again, and that put a stop to it," said Williams, whose team has developed a pattern of slow starts. "After that, we were an aggressive team. That is what we are looking for. . . . [McCall] just fit in. That's the big thing. He also gave us energy, which I was looking for at that point."
At every opportunity, McCall was clapping his hands, running as fast as he could and jumping after every loose ball, his long dreadlocks bouncing in the air. And his vigor appeared to rub off on his teammates, who started diving after loose balls and making better decisions.
Though McCall's statistics were far from impressive -- two points, two assists, two turnovers and one rebound in 13 minutes -- his play obviously changed the game. Maryland (10-2), which has won 71 consecutive nonconference home games, has a four-game winning streak, its longest of the season.
"I thought he helped our team tonight," Williams said. "I don't think there is any doubt about it."
Much like it did in Tuesday's 69-66 victory over George Mason, Maryland sleepwalked through the opening minutes. The Terrapins failed to connect on alley-oop passes, made careless turnovers and could not make open shots.
Williams's frustration was obvious as he continually yanked the starters out of the game. All five spent significant amounts of time on the bench, including preseason all-American forward Terence Morris.
McCall started nine games for the football team before tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He joined the basketball team for practice during its recent 15-day layoff and made his debut last night with 10 minutes 51 seconds left in the first half and Maryland leading 13-8.
While it was evident McCall is still learning the team's offensive sets -- teammates continually helped him find his place -- his presence on the court clearly turned the game's momentum. In the next five minutes, Maryland forced five turnovers and built a 28-12 lead.
"It just goes to show [Williams] wants players who work hard, and everyone should take notice," center Mike Mardesich said.
When McCall went out of the game, the crowd gave a loud ovation, and Williams greeted his newest player with a "Good job" and a small hug.
"I felt real comfortable," McCall said. "Playing in front of big football crowds, I got used to it in here. We have scorers and rebounders. My job is just to come out and be a good defender, run the court and bring excitement to the team. That's what I think I did tonight."
The Terrapins continued their strong play in the second half, holding UMBC without a field goal for more than seven minutes. Maryland scored on eight of its first nine possessions, opening up a 57-21 lead. UMBC (4-5) never got closer than 18 the rest of the game.
As for the Terrapins' slow starts, Williams said maybe his team needed to become tougher.
"We're nice guys -- I'm probably the worst guy on the team," he said. "We had some guys last year who would bite your head off if they had the chance. We're not like that off the court. We're very mild and gentlemen, and I respect them for the way they are, but when you walk between the lines, you have to pick it up. Hopefully we understand that now."