In the minutes before 18th-ranked Maryland's game tonight at Georgia Tech, the Terrapins' locker room probably will be fairly quiet. One or two players, likely walk-on guard Matt Hahn--the team's only senior--might go around the room, yelling and trying to fire up the team.
But for the most part, the group described by Maryland Coach Gary Williams as "laid-back people" does not get very vocal before, during or after games.
"Our guys this year have a different personality, which is fine, but you have to turn it on when the game starts," Williams said.
That has been the Terrapins' problem. When challenged, they have responded. The problem is, often that has meant responding after falling significantly behind.
"When they get down like they do, there is a response that makes us play harder and better," Williams said this week, as his team had five days to prepare for tonight's game. "But you want that response to be when the referee throws the ball up--not when you're down by 15."
The question is, why can't the players challenge each other before games?
"If that is what it takes to get off to a good start, I don't care," said Williams, who remains in the coaches' locker room until meeting with the players just before they leave to take the court. "If a player says, 'Let's draw the line here,' it might mean more than it would coming from a coach."
Maryland (11-4, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak in three seasons. In its first two ACC games, losses to North Carolina State and No. 6 Duke, it fell behind by double figures during the opening minutes, then raised its level of play.
Williams has remained steadfast that just because his players are less vocal, that does not make them less effective. However, last season's team--with Steve Francis, Terrell Stokes, Laron Profit and Obinna Ekezie--was much rowdier before games, Williams acknowledged, and rarely started slowly.
"We're not in a crisis because we've gotten our butts kicked bad, but if we could have started better in those two games [against N.C. State and Duke], we might have won both of those games," Williams said.
"It is not a mechanical thing about starting games. It's about being ready to play."
Maryland has won seven consecutive games against Georgia Tech, its longest winning streak against a conference opponent.
Because Georgia Tech (7-7, 0-2) has almost the same personnel as it did last season, led by 7-footers Alvin Jones and Jason Collier, Maryland likely will use the same game plan it did last season against the Yellow Jackets--play full-court defense more than it has recently.
Also today Georgetown, looking to avoid its first four-game losing streak since the 1994-95 season, plays Miami at MCI Center.
The Hurricanes (9-6, 2-1 Big East) have won four of five, including 71-64 over Seton Hall on Tuesday.
Swingman Johnny Hemsley of Baltimore leads the Hurricanes in scoring at 18.9 points per game. But improving their sloppy play might be more important to the Hoyas than stopping Hemsley.
Georgetown (8-6, 0-3) is shooting 33 percent in Big East play, with 33 assists and 66 turnovers. The Hoyas are desperate to avoid starting 0-4 in the Big East for the second consecutive season.
"There is definitely a sense of urgency," forward Jameel Watkins said.
Staff writer Ken Denlinger contributed to this report.
Maryland's Slow Starts
Opponent Trailed By Elapsed Final Score
Tulane 27-10 6:48 Maryland, 78-70
Kentucky 40-24 17:31 Kentucky, 61-58
Winthrop 18-11 8:52 Maryland, 76-65 (OT)
George Mason 7-4 3:44 Maryland, 69-66
N.C. State 18-4 8:29 N.C. State, 68-66
Duke 14-4 5:13 Duke, 80-70