ATLANTA ATLANTA | There were no gyrations, no extraneous actions. It was just Eric Hayes, going about his business and producing a double-digit performance for the Maryland basketball team.
That, of course, isn't anything new for the guard. Steady nights without much razzle-dazzle are part of Hayes' identity, though their frequency waned in the past month.
It wasn't just Hayes who helped the Terrapins secure a 57-56 defeat of Georgia Tech on Sunday night. But he was a little more conspicuous than usual; the mellow junior drew a start after serving as the sixth man for two games.
Hayes stepped back into the lineup with sophomore Adrian Bowie suffering from the flu and delivered a 15-point outing featuring sound shooting, welcome rebounding and a few steals as the Terrapins (15-8, 4-5 ACC) earned their first road victory of the season.
"Eric was great," coach Gary Williams said. "Eric's been around. I expected that completely. Eric sometimes doesn't get the credit because a lot of times his personality isn't [about] jumping around or anything. [It's] 'Yeah, Eric played OK, but this guy played well.' Tonight, Eric was the guy who played really well."
It was not a night for Hayes to blend into the background, as he seems to do on occasion, and his ability to aid Maryland's chase for a much-needed victory against the reeling Yellow Jackets might stem from his hiatus from the starting lineup. Williams made the switch to freshman Sean Mosley for the Terps' Jan. 31 defeat of Miami. At the time, Hayes was in the throes of a 19-for-61 (31.1 percent) slump and was coming off difficult games against Duke and Boston College.
Hayes made a pair of 3-pointers against the Hurricanes, and Williams said afterward he saw a more comfortable player than the one who scuffled through much of January. While the Terps have not given Hayes' game an extreme makeover, he demonstrated a willingness to attack the past few games.
"Nothing really changed a whole lot," Hayes said. "I wanted to assert myself more after getting put on the bench. It's just being aggressive and trying to get to the basket more and looking for my shot a lot more."
Whatever is different, there was a significant dichotomy when he was on the floor and off it against Georgia Tech. The Terps outscored the Yellow Jackets 47-35 when Hayes was playing but were drubbed 21-10 in his 10 minutes on the bench. That's an extreme case, but the general theme reflects a season-long trend. Maryland holds a 145-point margin on opponents when Hayes is on the floor - but just a 112-point margin overall.
Never was such steadiness more needed than Sunday, when the Terps received more of the same from perhaps a slightly different Hayes.
"I think it's made him a little more intense, in my opinion," forward Landon Milbourne said. "Coming off the bench sometimes has that effect on people. You feel like you have to push it a little bit more if you want your spot back, or you just want to give more to the team. I think he took that as an opportunity to step up."
Williams is optimistic Bowie will be back for Saturday's date with Virginia Tech (15-7, 5-3) at Comcast Center, and the rugged Mosley seems assured of remaining a starter after the Terps won two of three and scored a season-high 91 points at North Carolina in a loss.
That would seem to squeeze Hayes back to the bench. But after producing consecutive double-digit scoring nights for the first time since before Maryland's final-exams break in December, Hayes might be re-emerging at an ideal time.
"I don't think it really matters," Williams said of coming off the bench. "You see [Duke's] Greg Paulus do a great job when he doesn't start and when he did start. I think that can be true of Eric Hayes."