A Season of Letdowns

Maryland lost to American at home today in a game that wasn't particularly close. The final score was 67-59, the victors a small Patriot League school in Tenleytown, the most famous (or infamous) of its basketball players being Kermit Washington.

Had Maryland instead won by that eight-point margin, there would be reason for concern, at least in most of coach Gary Williams' 18-plus years here.

Twelve games into this season, wins and losses even, it's beyond the point of concern. It's alarming, disheartening, almost unbelievable. Pretty much any adjective that describes a bad situation would fit.

You can look at the big picture and point to an overall talent deficiency on the team, and that's certainly valid to some extent. But there's enough talent, if looked at in a vacuum, to beat American. So that wasn't the big issue today, or against Ohio, maybe even Virginia Commonwealth.

Overwhelmingly, and even those on the team will tell you, it's a lack of effort, heart, intensity and focus. Now that is shocking. Didn't this program just rid itself of guys with attitudes like that? Wasn't that the overarching reason Maryland missed the tournament in two of the last three years? Wasn't this team supposed to be different?

When Maryland went scoreless for nearly nine minutes in the first half, it was evident we were witnessing the worst performance of the season. When American's Derrick Mercer drove the length of the court for a lay-up in the final seconds before halftime, we were witnessing the new season-low in effort. When, twice in the second half, Maryland's possession out of a time out resulted in a turnover, we were witnessing lack of focus at another level.

When Williams stepped to podium after the game, maybe he could explain why this team lost to American for the first time since before the Great Depression.

"Nobody's hurt," Williams said. OK, we can get that out of the way.

How about shooting (20.8 percent in the first half, 35.8 percent in the game) and rebounding (advantage American, 40-33)?

"This is the ACC. You're supposed to make 15-footers. You're supposed to make 10-footers. You're supposed to make 5-footers," Williams said. "You're supposed to get offensive rebounds and not drop them and put the ball back in the basket. That's what teams at this level are supposed to do and that's what they've always been here for 18 years doing."

How about intensity?

"I don't know if I have the magic potion for that. We don't have that right now," Williams said.

So what can be done about all this?

"That's the tough question."

Maryland's players know exactly why they're losing. Bambale Osby, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne said everybody isn't focused entirely on basketball right now. They don't play hard at the start and by the time they wake up in the second half, it's too late to come back.

The whole team doesn't bring it every night. Other than Hayes (16 points) and Greivis Vasquez (career-high 28 points), the rest of the team made four field goals today. James Gist, the player most people would expect to step up in situations like today's, fouled out with four points at the 5:17 mark in the second half.

"I don't think everybody's on the same page right now," Milbourne said.

That would probably be an understatement.

It's only Dec. 22 and the season is less than half-over, but it would take a miraculous effort for this team to make the NCAA tournament. The hope is for this team to get better each game, but even that isn't happening. Since losing to Boston College, it's clearly regressing.

And perhaps that, above everything else, is what is so disconcerting about the way this season has played out. Williams' teams, for the most part, don't get worse as the year goes on. He's always been able to inspire them, to get them to rally around each other and overcome adversity.

But it's as if with this team's every loss, any confidence it comes in with takes a major hit. With no confidence, nothing good ever happens. And it's quite clear right now that there is very little of it in Maryland's locker room. Nobody is rallying around anything.

It leads to the question: Does this team even care? Because it sure doesn't seem like that.

The Terps will have almost another full week to digest this loss before facing Delaware. Obviously there are several on-court issues that this week's practices will attempt to address, but before any of that matters, there needs to be a major change in attitude. They need to want to get better, they need to care.

"I think everybody over the break, we're going to have to look at each other, look ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we want to do with the season," Hayes said.

Maybe this is the time when Williams' chip-on-his-shoulder attitude would do well if passed on to the rest of the team. More than almost ever, people will not only doubt Maryland, but completely dismiss it. American came into the Comcast Center and ran the Terps off their home court, much like Ohio did. This team isn't feared anymore.

If the players can't look at that and see it as a major problem, then this season will continue its downward spiral, maybe as far down as a Gary Williams team has ever been at Maryland.

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