It was past 3 a.m. Thursday morning by the time Drew Nicholas got back to the off-campus apartment he shares with teammate Steve Blake. Although he was weary from a late-night plane ride, Nicholas was in no mood to sleep after enduring a poor shooting performance in Maryland's 81-72 loss at Wake Forest.
Instead, he did what he often does after games. He phoned his older brother, Chris, who was awake and waiting for the phone to ring.
"He knew I'd be calling," Drew said. "It always helps to talk to him. I pretty much talk to him after every game. He's the one who taught me how to play. I look up to him."
Chris Nicholas, who played at Colgate in the mid-1990s, had been up late that night, watching the game at a sports bar. And after spending an hour on the phone in the wee hours of the night, his eyes might have been a little red when he showed up early the next morning for his job as a financial analyst for IBM in White Plains, N.Y.
Chris told his little brother: "There's always going to be tomorrow. Just don't let yesterday affect today because that will just make you feel two times worse."
Through practice and two film sessions Thursday, Drew Nicholas tried to purge the memory of his 4-of-14 shooting at Wake Forest. Friday night, he was back at Comcast Center, taking a friend to rebound as he got in a few hundred jump shots before Saturday's game against Duke.
The brothers spoke again later that night, with Chris telling Drew to get a good night's sleep.
"This isn't the kind of game you get too much sleep the night before," Drew replied.
Once again, Nicholas laid awake in the middle of the night. This time, though, instead of thinking about what had gone so wrong Wednesday at Wake, he envisioned what could go so right Saturday afternoon against Duke.
"I was putting every situation in my head," Nicholas said. "How I was going to try to get steals, how I was going to try to score and do pretty much whatever it takes to win."
Nicholas, who is averaging 18.3 points per game, had struggled in each of the Terrapins' previous four games against teams currently in the top 25 -- all losses -- shooting just 29.2 percent from the field and 15 percent from three-point range. (His season percentages are 44.3 and 37.3.) "I took it kind of hard on myself," Nicholas said. "Obviously, I want to be the one playing well in those kind of games. It's just a process trying to fight through it, just a growing pain. . . . Shooters get hot and they get cold sometimes. That's the way the ball bounces. It's not going to bounce your way every time. It's the guys that have the confidence, that's what makes them great shooters."
So Nicholas kept shooting. And against top-ranked Duke, the shots fell. Midway through the first half he scored seven consecutive points, and he started the second half with two free throws and a layup. Nicholas finished with 24 points and three steals -- one off his career-high -- helping Maryland rally for an 87-72 victory.
Throughout the game Nicholas looked over to the bench, where former teammate Juan Dixon, whose Washington Wizards did not play until that night, sat and gave pointers.
The two occasionally speak on the phone, Dixon having gone through a similar situation three years ago. After one season of watching Steve Francis, Dixon had three seasons in the spotlight. Although Nicholas is taking over for a top scorer, he only has this, his senior year, to make things happen. And he has to do so while replacing Dixon, one of the greatest players in school history and the one who led it to its first national championship.
"Give me a break, that's pressure," Coach Gary Williams said.
"Plus, we need him. Forget who he is replacing, we need him to score to be good. We lost a lot of scoring from last year. We needed him to score. He had quite a bit of pressure riding on him coming in. It's great to see what he has done. When he came here, I don't think anyone thought he would be a main cog on our team."
Another big game comes Wednesday, when Maryland plays at North Carolina, where Chris Nicholas earned a master's degree last spring. The Tar Heels are much improved from last season's 8-20 team, and they have the ACC's leading scorer in freshman swingman Rashad McCants, who averages 19 points per game. If McCants gets going, he probably will find himself guarded by Nicholas, who helped hold Duke standout J.J. Redick to 13 points Saturday, just two in the second half.
"I was glad to see Drew get credit for his defense" against Duke, Williams said. "The way things are in college basketball, the best players now are at that position."