It is only the second week of February and despite a two-game losing streak, Gary Williams said he is not about to place any added importance on a single game. While Maryland's coach is preaching patience, however, some of his players said that beating Florida State tonight is critical for the Terrapins' long-term prospects.
"I would consider this a must-win," senior point guard Steve Blake said. "Losing two in a row, if we lost a third, it would be pretty devastating for what we want to achieve this year.
"If we want to be the best team possible, win the ACC regular season, have confidence and believe we can have a chance to do big things this year, losing three straight would hurt."
Said senior forward Tahj Holden: "This is a big game for us. Any time you lose three straight in the conference, that's tough to come back from."
Williams, though, remembers the last time his team had a three-game losing streak. It was the second week of February 2001 and the final loss of the streak was to Florida State. Just when it seemed that season might be going in the wrong direction, though, the Terrapins recovered and advanced to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
"Once you've gotten that experience behind you, you realize that things can turn around rapidly," Williams said. "This would be a big win for us. But other teams in the league have lost two in a week. So you don't panic. . . . We just have to play better. I think the players understand that's the most important thing -- don't worry about other teams, worry about how well we play.
"It's amazing how it goes week to week this year in the league. . . . We're doing okay. We just have to play well from here on out. This is the time, early February, where you get into a bit of a lull sometimes. You have to break out of it and hopefully we'll be able to do that."
Playing better is particularly important because No. 16 Maryland (14-6, 6-3 ACC) is in the midst of a difficult part of its schedule. After tonight's game, the Terrapins host No. 15 Wake Forest on Sunday and play at No. 8 Duke on Feb. 19. Winning on the road has been tough to do in the ACC this season, with home teams going 32-8 in conference play. Maryland, however, has two of those victories and can become the first team this season to win three ACC road games by beating the Seminoles for the second time this season.
The teams' first meeting, on Jan. 11, was particularly one-sided, with the Terrapins scoring the first 18 points and coasting to an 89-62 victory. The Seminoles, tied for last place in the conference, have won only twice since, but both of those victories came at home, including a 75-70 victory over Duke.
Williams said he thought Maryland's opening run in the first meeting was a fluke. However, he agreed that the Terrapins have been streaky over the past few weeks, often playing at high and substandard levels in the same game. That has been especially true of late. In Thursday's loss to Virginia, Maryland took the lead with an 11-0 run in the first half but gave up a decisive 16-0 run late in the game. In Sunday's loss to Georgia Tech, the Terrapins gave up a 14-0 run in the first half and never recovered.
Last season's national championship team had a similar habit of surging. The difference perhaps is that this season's team has struggled offensively at times, though Williams said he does not think the players' confidence has been affected.
"You can't be shaken because you lose two games," said Williams, who might start Nik Caner-Medley tonight after the freshman forward scored a career-high 14 points against Georgia Tech. "You have to be tough enough to handle that. Losing is tough. . . . We had more firepower last year. We had more ways to score."