TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- March will determine if this is the most accomplished basketball team Maryland has ever had. Heading into today's regular-season finale, this much is certain: It's the most demonstrative.
The fifth-ranked Terps are heavy favorites to beat struggling Florida State in a 1: 30 p.m. Atlantic Coast Conference game at the Leon County Civic Center. They talk, preen when they are happy and pout when they are not. They bump chests over a dunk and wince if they don't get the ball when they're open. They jump, jive and wail.
"That's something we've developed," junior guard Steve Francis said. "I don't think anyone is scared to show his feelings. I'm definitely not scared to show mine. If I'm mad about something, I make sure it's known to the other team. When you have a team of guys who want to play hard, it's going to come out eventually."
The Terps (24-4, 12-3) haven't had much reason to be angry this season. They already have a school record for regular-season victories. A sixth straight win today would give them 13 in the ACC for the first time, and their second-best winning percentage ever in conference games.
Coach Gary Williams is proud of his team and its run at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Supposedly mellowed, he is still capable of turning the air blue with his language, or ripping off his sports coat and throwing it on the floor when reserve center Mike Mardesich doesn't use the baseline for defensive help.
If the coach can wear his emotions on his sleeve, so can his players.
"You look at guys from the late '60s and early '70s," Williams said. "You weren't allowed to show any emotion, because the coach wouldn't allow you. You might be able to pat a guy on the back. Maybe you were allowed to help up a teammate if he got knocked down.
"Now, if Laron Profit makes a great play, he might jump. That's great, because our players show their personality. The great thing about team spirit is getting the guys to play together, and not lose their individuality. That's what makes us good. Steve is demonstrative. Laron plays with flair. Terrell [Stokes] directs the show.
"Then you've got Terence [Morris], the mild-mannered guy with the S under his uniform."
Even Morris, the Superman in waiting who barely uttered a peep last season, has taken to slapping hands and reacting in mock horror to a botched official's call.
It was obvious at Midnight Madness, when the players descended from the concourse at Cole Field House, through their fans and down to the floor, that they enjoyed playing to the crowd. Francis, making his long-awaited debut, motioned for a raucous packed house to get even louder.
Francis was a boisterous addition who could put the Terps over the hump and into their first Final Four, but he hardly joined a demure bunch.
In last season's ACC tournament semifinals, center Obinna Ekezie made a basket with a North Carolina player on his back, then strode the length of the floor to stare down several thousand Tar Heels fans before he attempted his free throw. In a big win over Clemson, Stokes got in a shouting match with then-senior Sarunas Jasikevicius.
When the Terps scowl at each other, fans should not put too much weight on it, because the players don't.
"I get mad at him, he gets mad at me, and it's over," Profit said. "The next play, that stuff is forgotten. If somebody misses an open man, what happens, subconsciously, the guy tries extra hard to get you the ball the next play. You should see the way we go after each other when nobody's in the stands, no coaches, and we play pickup."
Not everyone enjoys the Terps' act. At Georgia Tech on Sunday, injured Yellow Jackets star Dion Glover escalated a trash-talking incident with Francis, which led an Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist to advise the Terps to "shut up and play." Three nights ago, Clemson coach Larry Shyatt asked the officials to quiet down Francis.
Francis, en route to being named the ACC Player of the Week, would get noticed on his talent alone. He has been a marked man, the Terps have been a marked team, and they revel in the attention.
NOTES: Florida State (12-15, 5-10) has lost eight straight conference games, a slide that began at Cole on Jan. 27. Maryland is looking for its sixth ACC road win, which would be another first. It would be the 40th ACC win for Profit and Stokes, which would be a record for Terps seniors. Freshman center Lonny Baxter had two fingers on his right hand taped together yesterday, after he banged his index finger on the backboard in practice Thursday. The Leon County Civic Center has been under renovation this season, and visitors have complained about the drafty conditions.
Opponent: Florida State
Site: Leon County Civic Center, Tallahassee, Fla.
When: 1: 30 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM) Pub Date: 2/27/99