Maryland, Georgia Tech seek solutions to slumps

February 05, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Despite nearly opposite records in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland and Georgia Tech come into today's 1:30 p.m. at sold-out Cole Field House with something in common: fragile psyches.

Coming off back-to-back losses at Duke and Virginia, the surprising Terrapins (12-5, 5-3) are teetering on the brink of their first significant slide of the season with road games at North Carolina and Florida State next week.

In the midst of a streak that includes five defeats in their past six games, including a 19-point pounding Wednesday night at Clemson, the disappointing Yellow Jackets (11-8, 2-6) are tied with the ACC's other bust, Florida State, and North Carolina State for last place.

"Our guys see the standings, they know the schedule," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday before practice. "You can't worry about it. You just have to go out and play."

Said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins: "We got ourselves behind the 8-ball a little. I thought we'd fight through it, but we haven't."

It was during their first meeting this season that the fortunes of these teams began to change.

Maryland, then unranked, was coming off a 14-point defeat by Massachusetts. Georgia Tech, ranked 12th at the time, had just upset No. 4 Temple in the ECAC Holiday Festival.

The Terps came out flying -- and shooting -- against the Yellow Jackets, scoring 17 of the game's first 19 points, building an 18-point lead with 11 minutes left and then holding on for a 91-88 victory, Maryland's first at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in 14 years.

"If we held our ground that night, I think we'd be OK now," said Cremins, whose Yellow Jackets routed North Carolina by 20 points a week after the Maryland loss. "I don't know what started it, but playing Maryland at home now isn't great for us."

The Terps are looking forward to returning to Cole Field House, where they have won three straight ACC games and have lost only to the Tar Heels this season.

But they are aware that the inflated expectations of a boisterous crowd -- a blowout over perhaps the second-worst team in the league right now -- may only be a virtual reality.

"They still have Travis Best and James Forrest, two of the best players in the country," said Williams. "James Forrest scored 36 points against us down there, 23 in the second half. He nearly brought them back all by himself. They're too good a team to be playing like this."

Said Maryland point guard Duane Simpkins, who got the Terps off to their hot start down in Atlanta: "I think we've got a little sidetracked the past two games. I know me personally, I wasn't hitting my shots. I think if we run our offense better, we'll have a good chance to win."

Today's game will be a perfect opportunity for freshman center Joe Smith to break out of a shooting slump that has lasted for three games.

After a sensational start, Smith has missed 30 of his past 40 shots, including 16 of 19 in Wednesday night's 73-66 loss in Charlottesville.

"The past three games, I've been thinking too much before shooting, almost like I was waiting for the double-team to get to me," said Smith, who finished with a season-low 10 points against the Cavaliers. "I have to go back to what I was doing before."

Said Williams: "Against Duke, Joe was getting trapped a lot by people just as big as he is. But I thought he got the shots we wanted him to against Virginia. He just didn't make them."

It is certainly too early for the Terps to panic, considering that they are solidly entrenched in fourth place in the ACC standings and are one game out of first.

But with a tougher second half of the season ahead -- including four of the next six on the road -- a victory today would go a long way.

"You've got to get back on track somewhere," said Simpkins. "This is as good as any."

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