COLLEGE PARK — Throughout most of Gary Williams' 22 seasons as Maryland's coach, and for parts of Mark Turgeon's first two years, the Terps often played with a proverbial chip on their collective shoulder.
With many of Williams' early teams, the chip was more like a boulder. But as the on-paper talent has improved under Turgeon, the grit and toughness has slowly disappeared. If there has been a chip this season, it has been almost pebble-sized.
Maryland (11-8, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) will try to change that Saturday night when the Terps hope to put their sobering nine-point defeat Monday night at North Carolina State behind them in a matchup with No. 20 Pittsburgh (17-2, 5-1) at Comcast Center.
For the Terps, it is not just a matter of shooting better than they did in Raleigh from the field (22 of 70 overall, seven of 22 on 3-pointers) or from the foul line (five of 13). It's also not a matter of simply eliminating silly fouls and sloppy turnovers.
It's about changing their mindset.
"We definitely need to play with more intensity, I think," sophomore forward Jake Layman said after practice Friday. "We do have to play with a chip on our shoulder, we do have to come into every game like this could be the breaking point in our season."
Said junior guard Dez Wells: "It's a cliche, but it's something you can't teach. Chip on your shoulder, back against the wall, same thing, but we definitely need to come out. We just need to come out … ready to compete."
After the loss to N.C. State, junior forward Evan Smotrycz said the Terps were "too talented" to play the way they did, particularly in the second half, when they surrendered an 11-point lead amid a flurry of quick and questionable shots.
Asked Friday whether he agreed with Smotrycz's assessment, Turgeon said: "I don't know if we're too good. I think we're too impatient, too immature, too selfish. When things go bad, we try to do it on our own. … We'll see how committed they are to being successful."
Said Layman: "I think with us, when things are going bad, we've got to start slowing down, just executing and getting the best shot for our team. In situations where we've faced adversity … we've been going crazy, and I guess you would call it being a little selfish at times."
Maryland was able to overcome a sluggish start and win fairly easily over a wounded and shorthanded Notre Dame team in its last home game. Now the Terps have to show that quality against a ranked Pittsburgh team.
Despite losing sophomore forward Durand Johnson (Lake Clifton) to a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago, the Panthers have been on a roll. Pittsburgh nearly beat No. 2 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last Saturday, then crushed upstart Clemson, 76-43, at home Tuesday.
"We can always be tougher," said junior forward Jon Graham (Calvert Hall), one of the few Terps who has consistently played with intensity. "There's a bunch of things we can look back on and say, 'Oh, we weren't mentally tough before.' I think this week in practice, we've done a great job with it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun