- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

The questions inside the Maryland locker room are similar to those pouring in from the outside. The Terps, who dropped four spots to No. 17 in the latest Associated Press poll, find themselves wondering how a season that began with so much promise has deteriorated into such a disappointment.

"The hardest question probably is why are things so much different [than last season] when we have the exact same team and we are probably a year more experienced?" reserve point guard Drew Nicholas said. "Why we are not going out and winning basketball games that we would've won last year? Let's face it. We would've won some of these basketball games last year."

Maryland (15-8, 6-5 ACC) returned its top eight players from last season's 25-10 team and added talented newcomers Byron Mouton and Chris Wilcox. But it has already matched its number of ACC losses from last season after losing four of its last five games. The Terps are 1-6 against ranked teams and have had their mental toughness questioned. The group has been unable to sustain a high-level effort particularly on defense.

Terps coach Gary Williams reportedly is considering shaking up the lineup, perhaps moving Danny Miller into Mouton's starting small forward slot tonight against Florida State to try to energize the underachieving squad. Miller, a 6-foot-8 junior, started all last season and the first four games of this season before giving way to Mouton.

"It's always a possibility," said Williams, who wouldn't speculate yesterday.

Maryland is tied for third in the league with Georgia Tech after expecting to compete with North Carolina and Duke for the title. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils have run away from the pack, while Maryland is only a game ahead of fifth-place teams Wake Forest and Virginia.

Tonight, the Terps will take a break from the big boys when the last-place Seminoles (6-17, 1-9) visit Cole Field House. It figures to be the last easy win of the season for a team desperate to regain some lost confidence. Maryland has won 10 straight over the Seminoles.

The Terps' latest loss came Saturday in a 96-82 dismissal by top-ranked North Carolina. The Tar Heels shot a phenomenal 58 percent in the contest, and the Terps wilted shortly after halftime.

"We didn't play any defense in the second half," said Terps shooting guard Juan Dixon, who is in a personal shooting slump. He has made 40 percent of his field goals and 24 percent of his 3-pointers over the past five games. "We allowed them to get to the basket, to get open shots in transition. We are not going to win many games that way."

Dixon is one of many struggling Terps. Power forward Terence Morris made only eight of 28 (29 percent) field goals in the past two games. Mouton, who provided instant energy earlier this season, has just eight points and four rebounds combined in the past three games. He played only nine minutes against North Carolina, little after a poor start. Maryland's most physical player, 6-10, 250-pound Tahj Holden, may be feeling the effects of the broken foot that caused him to miss considerable time earlier this season, according to Williams. Holden got in only three minutes against the Tar Heels.

It is clear the Terps are still haunted by the devastating loss to Duke on Jan. 27. Maryland blew a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of regulation and lost in overtime and hasn't been the same since. That began a breakdown that saw the Terps lose by 21 in an uninspired effort at Virginia, beat undermanned Clemson and fall apart in a road loss to Georgia Tech before their latest setback on Tobacco Road.

"You can't live in the past," said Williams, who joked that if he lost this much regularly he would be looking for a job in broadcasting. "It's very important for us to understand that."

The remainder of the schedule is favorable for the Terps with four of their final six regular season games at home. Beyond tonight's expected win, Maryland plays host to unranked N.C. State, No. 14 Oklahoma and 12th-ranked Virginia. The Terps will travel to No. 23 Wake Forest on Saturday and have the rematch with third-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 27.

Maryland hopes it has bottomed out in the toughest part of the schedule and can build some momentum at home before heading into the ACC tournament in three weeks. The Terps unraveled Saturday when the offense panicked under pressure. It was just part of a disturbing second-half fade that has become commonplace at Maryland this season.

"Our shot selection has been suspect," Williams said about his team, which shot 40.5 percent against the Tar Heels in the second half. "We shot the ball way too quickly against a team as good as Carolina. We took 79 shots and they took 60 in our game Saturday, and you are not going to win like that against a team playing that good. Our defensive intensity isn't what I'd like ever since the Duke game. We have to come back and play with the defensive intensity we showed early in the league season."

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