COLLEGE PARK, Md. - On Valentine's Day, the Hokies failed to play their recent role as Terrapin heartbreaker. A weekend in which countless teams scrambled to prepare their tourney resumes saw the Hokies sputter into the Comcast Center to face a team with all the bulletin board material in the world.
The said material actually stared across the court at embattled Maryland coach Gary Williams throughout the night's 83-73 Maryland win.
With "The Washington Post" ironically emblazoned on the sidelined opposite, Williams' team rallied to his guard with stifling defense and rebounding presence the Terrapins had accomplished little of in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
The publication that, via three-part series, had skewered Williams' record and recruiting prowess throughout the week, turned the topic on everyone's minds into tangible form.
"Despite what all the geniuses in the media around here think, they think that guys just come to schools -- it's not that easy," Tech coach Seth Greenberg, who'd recruited starters Jeff Allen (Washington DC) and Malcolm Delaney (Baltimore) a short drive from College Park, said. "You can recruit your tail off and lose guys. That's just the way it is."
At the edge of the banner advertisement sat Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, adorned in a red t-shirt found on many in attendance and most situated courtside. Despite Williams' open feuding with the Maryland athletic department and the heavy scrutiny doled out by local media, it read "This is Garyland" on the front and "We 'Heart' our coach" on the back.
This is what the Hokies knew they were up against. Greivis Vasquez and company were fighting for the honor of the man who brought them in. The Terrapins were defending their institution. The Ninja Turtles were fighting for Splinter.
Instead of rising to the occasion and rolling into College Park prepared four its fourth straight win against Maryland (16-8, 5-5), the Hokies (16-8, 6-4) stumbled off the Washington Beltway with no semblance of offensive cohesiveness, a striking case of lethargy, and general listlessness.
"There was no sense of urgency," Greenberg said. "I could see it in warm ups. I told our people in warm ups, just the way we were carrying ourselves."
"We had no energy," Delaney said. "We, coming out, had no momentum coming from practice, we had a bad week of practice. We just got, basically, what we deserve."
Delaney, who'd earned Gatorade's Mr. Maryland Basketball honors in high school, had critiqued Williams' strategy in recruiting him, according to Thursday's portion of the aforementioned Washington Post investigative series.
"We had no flow," Delaney said. "That goes back to practice ... and it turned right into the game.
Greenberg had emphasized rebounding as a focus for practice heading into Wednesday's Georgia Tech victory, a contest in which the Hokies outrebounded one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's best in that category. Tech failed to do the same on Saturday, despite going against statistically the ACC's poorest rebounding team.
Tech's frustration appeared to reach a point of hopelessness before the game fell completely out of reach, at the scorer's table at least.
Down by 11 with a little over three-minutes left, Allen's seemingly careless foul nearly clobbered Maryland guard Adrien Bowie into the courtside seats. As the crowd scowled, I half-expected Harbaugh to leap from his nearby chair and implore the referee's for a flag, but the act of unnecessary roughness just succeeded in riling up the red-clad of nearly 18-thousand in attendance.
Unfortunately for maroon and orange, Tech's leading scorer would catch fire a little too late this time. After dropping only four points in the first half, Delaney tallied 9 of his 17 total over the final 2:17 -- or after the outcome had been more or less decided.
On the other side, Maryland's 83 was the second-most scored against Tech in regulation this season.
"We didn't do a good on the ball screens shrinking the court," Greenberg, after his team's third game of the week, said. "We didn't do a good job when the ball went to the post on cutters, and we didn't cut (Sean) Mosley out off the glass."
Perhaps Tech hit a perfect storm of emotional elements that sometimes draw a power higher than Greivis Vasquez spending the game in foul trouble and fouling out with 2:30 left, or the Hokies facing a team that, on paper, should have little answer on defense for Allen.