Terrapins already facing must-win

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Maybe it was the flight from Miami. Maybe it was gnawing annoyance of a last-minute loss a few days earlier.

No matter the reason, Maryland coach Gary Williams reclined in a Tallahassee, Fla., hotel conference room Friday and groaned about the question he thought he heard, rather than the one that was being asked.

“Oh no, don’t,” he said. “Let’s not get that started this year where every game is the key game of the season.”

No one should have placed Saturday’s meeting with Florida State in such a category. Yet there’s a chance Tuesday’s visit from Virginia could carry those sorts of implications.

Sure, the Terrapins (12-5, 1-2 ACC) had a chance to emerge from their two-game Florida jaunt 3-0 in the conference. Instead, they return to Comcast Center after back-to-back losses to face struggling Virginia (7-7, 1-2).

“I think it’s as close to a must-win as you can get,” guard Eric Hayes said. “We’re 1-2 in the league right now. We win that game at home, which is real important for us, to get back to .500 and go from there. We can’t afford to lose games at home because we’ve seen the road is that much tougher.”

On Monday, Williams, as expected, pointed to the 13 remaining games in conference play, yet the opposition in nearly half of them is truly redoubtable. The Terps still have home-and-homes with No.2 Duke and No.5 North Carolina and must play single dates with No.1 Wake Forest and No.10 Clemson.

That would be a challenging set of games for anyone, let alone a Maryland team struggling with its shooting and receiving only so much beyond its top six players. The Terps have fared reasonably well in negating their size disadvantage inside on defense, which rates as one of the more welcome developments from the start of league play.

“I don’t think we’ve lost any belief in ourselves as a team,” Williams said. “The toughest thing we have to fight through is the outside information everybody gets nowadays. People have opinions and express those opinions, and we have to have our own opinion as a team.”

Indeed, Williams hopes the Terps’ viewpoint matches his own. He is correct that Maryland should have defeated Miami after holding a 17-point lead in the second half and could have up-ended Florida State after taking the Seminoles to overtime.

Even a split would have reflected rather well on Maryland, which is the only team in the ACC without a road victory this season. Instead, the Terps return home with a sub-.500 league record - and no amount of spin changes that reality.

A bigger hole would be even more painful, especially if the loss came against the league’s preseason doormat and with a visit to Duke looming Saturday.

“To go 1-3 in the conference would be tough for us,” forward Dave Neal said.

Still, the Terps aren’t doomed to such a fate. Last week’s losses did yield some optimism. The Terps shot 40.9 percent in the games, and guard Greivis Vasquez was held to six points at Florida State, yet they still had a chance to win both outings.

Such chances, though, cannot be squandered any longer, and the Terps would be well-advised to begin their turnaround Tuesday.

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