ATLANTA -- When they played Georgia Tech for the first time this season, the Maryland Terrapins were undefeated and undeterred by the lack of attention and respect they had received. That was mid-December, an eternity in the relatively short life span of a college basketball season.
When the teams meet again at 7 tonight at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in an Atlantic Coast Conference game, the Terrapins will have been through an exhilarating ride. At the height, they were ranked fifth in the country, and had won 17 of their first 19 games.
Now they appear to have plateaued.
With four losses in its past six games, 14th-ranked Maryland (19-6, 8-4) has shown the deficiencies it didn't seem to have -- or at least hid -- earlier in the season. But coach Gary Williams doesn't seem to believe his Terrapins have to prove anything, to themselves or anyone else.
"The first time we played them, we had to win our first game to show we could play in the league," said Williams, recalling an impressive 77-63 victory Dec. 12 in College Park. "But we've won a lot of games since then. If we win [tonight], the only thing it does is improve our chances to win the ACC regular-season championship."
But there have been two double-digit defeats in the past three games, a 12-point loss at Clemson on Feb. 8 and a 17-point loss to Massachusetts in Worcester on Saturday. Those two setbacks sent up a red flag; a loss tonight to the Yellow Jackets could mean that a white one is soon to follow.
"We just have to go back to the way we were playing earlier in the season," said sophomore guard Laron Profit, one of the few bright spots in Maryland's recent slide. "We have to look at what we've been doing the last couple of weeks and eliminate them [the mistakes]."
To that end, Williams didn't show his team a tape of its most recent game, but the one the Terrapins played against the Yellow Jackets more than two months ago. Maryland took a 24-4 lead en route to its seventh of 11 straight wins to open the season.
"We were really flying around," said sophomore center Obinna Ekezie. "It gives us a reminder of how we should be playing. For us to play our best, everybody has to be playing well at the same time."
After playing a team with a great deal on the line, Maryland faces one with little incentive. After blowing big leads in its past two games, Georgia Tech (9-13, 3-9) will have to wait for next month's ACC tournament for any chance to play itself into the NCAA tournament.
Bobby Cremins fears that his team's most recent defeat, a 72-68 loss to North Carolina in which Georgia Tech was outscored 31-11 down the stretch, might have drained the emotional well for the Yellow Jackets going into tonight's game inside the McDonald's Center.
"Emotionally, we're beat up," Cremins said yesterday. "But we have no chance against Maryland if we come out flat. It will be embarrassing if we come out that way. I hope to God we don't."
Emotion should play a large part in Maryland's approach as well. Except for a little exuberance from Profit in the first half, the Terrapins barely put up a fight against the Minutemen. It turned out to be the most one-sided defeat of the year.
"We're in pretty good shape physically. We have to see how we respond mentally," Williams said. "It's an interesting game for our team. It's the first time this year where we'll be having to come back after not playing very well [for most of the game]."
NOTES: Cremins said that junior forward Matt Harpring, who experienced dizziness and blurred vision after getting hit in the head toward the end of the North Carolina game, was expected to practice yesterday and play tonight. Maryland forward Keith Booth said he was pleased to find out that his jersey will be hung at Cole Field House before Saturday's game against North Carolina, but he's not going to get carried away with things. "As a senior, you don't want to lose your last home game," he said.
Pub Date: 2/19/97