COLLEGE PARK - Gary Williams broke out his scowl early last night. Two minutes into the game, he stood in front of Maryland's bench with his hands on his hips, pursing his lips and shaking his head with obvious disgust.
The scowl - a Williams classic during his 16 seasons with the Terps - has so much mileage on it this year, it can't help but also betray a hint of weariness in the coach's face. It has simply been that kind of season, and as Williams acknowledged after Maryland's 97-93 loss to Clemson, he has never had a team quite like this.
"Not in 37 years of coaching," Williams said. "Never."
The more Williams snarled, cursed and beat the air with his fists last night, the more he juggled his lineup and pleaded with his point guard, the more obvious it became that coaching was not going to rescue the Terps against Clemson.
When you get right down to it, it would take a team of psychiatrists to diagnose a treatment of this team's multiple personality disorder lately. Up one game, down the next, the Terps can't seem to find any consistency, and as a result, Maryland's 11-year streak of making the NCAA tournament remains in jeopardy with games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech remaining in the regular season.
"It comes to the point where you have to look in the mirror," said Nik Caner-Medley. "[Clemson] came out with more intensity. They took us out."
For whatever reason, Maryland lacked both inspiration and effort early on, and by the time its players managed to summon both, it was already too late. Williams was so furious with his starters, he yanked all five of them just 2:19 into the game, but the move was hardly effective. It won over the crowd, but a six-point Clemson lead swelled to a 12-point advantage, and though Maryland rallied, it never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
There were no obvious answers in the locker room, only the promise by several players that this team would absolutely make the NCAA tournament. With a 16-9 record and a 7-7 mark in league play, that's no longer a sure thing, especially as the search for a true identity continues.
"We're still trying to get our chemistry together," said Gilchrist, who scored 12 points on just 4-for-16 shooting. "We're still trying to find our niche, our common bond. ... It's kind of tough when you have a lot of outside factors going on. There is a lot of stuff going on right now, a lot of things behind the scenes, and we're just trying to make things right."
Gilchrist wouldn't get specific about what exactly was happening behind closed doors, but he did go so far as to acknowledge that things off the court are affecting Maryland's performance on it.
"Everybody has lives," Gilchrist said. "Everyone has things that affect them. We're 20-year-old college students. People sometimes forget that. People just see what goes on out on the floor. That's the toughest part, just trying to put a mask on. I've tried to do that all year, just be positive. ... I've just never been put in a position before where everything I do is being monitored. I'm just trying to learn and cope with everything I do being judged."