Freshmen pick up aspects of college basketball at different rates, but it hasn't taken long for Maryland's Eric Hayes to figure out the significance of road victories as part of any team's postseason calculus.
Hayes and the Terrapins (16-5, 2-4 ACC) haven't won away from Comcast Center in more than two months but can reverse that trend during a two-game trip that begins with tonight's visit to Florida State (15-6, 3-4).
"I think it's big for this week to get a win," Hayes said. "Not having an ACC road victory, it's definitely something the [selection] committee looks at when you think about the [NCAA] tournament. It's definitely big this week if we can get these two wins on the road and get back to .500."
The Terps technically have two road victories -- their evisceration of St. John's at Madison Square Garden before a reasonably pro-Maryland crowd and their rally at Illinois. But both games were in November, and the Terps have nothing to show for their last four forays away from home: A BB&T Classic loss to Notre Dame at Verizon Center, then setbacks at Boston College, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
The last three losses helped Maryland sink to 1-4 in the conference before Wednesday's rout of Georgia Tech in College Park. It was just a one-game respite, and the Terps must grind out visits to Florida State and last-place Wake Forest before entering a home-heavy second half of the conference season.
A few more stumbles so early could relegate Maryland to a middle-of-the-pack finish in the league even before they play conference titans Duke and North Carolina. The Terps also could stand to bolster their NCAA tournament resume; Maryland won only a pair of true road games each of the last two years, a factor that helped doom them to NIT berths both seasons.
"This is a must-win situation," forward Bambale Osby said. "We've been losing games on the road, and we have to snap that trend if we want to make the NCAA tournament. ... At this stage of the game, being 2-4, we can't go down 2-5 and lose road games. I don't think we can afford to drop this one."
To avoid that result, the Terps need to deliver more fluid performances. At the very least, they can't afford to have glaring deficiencies exposed.
That was the case at Boston College, where they were mauled inside on the way to a 43-36 rebounding deficit. At Virginia, questionable defense and massive foul trouble ensured another loss. And in the defeat at Virginia Tech, the Terps' shaky shooting all over the floor led to another fruitless trip.
There is no obvious unifying theme among the three games, though maturity in a backcourt that prominently features two freshmen (Hayes and Greivis Vasquez) could be a factor in the erratic play.
"I think some of them get a little stressed out, and some of them do things they usually don't do when they're just going out and playing," guard D.J. Strawberry said. "I think they just need to go have fun, like we did earlier in the season when we were at Illinois and Greivis had a great game. ... Now he's a little bit stressed on the road. I don't know why."