COLLEGE PARK -- With 18 seconds left, Kevin McLinton raised both fists into the air. The junior guard wasn't signaling a play as much as starting to celebrate the end of Maryland's long losing streak.
When the final buzzer sounded yesterday, McLinton looked up toward a scoreboard at Cole Field House with a look of joyful disbelief.
The score -- Maryland 84, Clemson 71 -- brought a broad smile to McLinton's face, a bear hug from Terrapins coach Gary Williams and one last ovation from a crowd of 11,667.
"I wanted to make sure it was for real," McLinton said later. "It was nice to see us ahead at the end of the game."
Or as Williams would say: "I felt really good winning. It's been so long. It was a different feeling at the end of the game."
It was a feeling neither Williams nor his players had experienced in more than a month. The victory, the Terrapins' first this season in the ACC, broke an eight-game losing streak for Maryland (8-9, 1-6).
Senior guard Walt Williams continued his recent roll, but the difference was that the ACC's leading scorer finally got some much-needed help. Williams finished with 31 points, but McLinton scored a career-high 24. Junior guard Chris Whitney led Clemson (9-5, 1-4) with 23.
Another difference for the Terps was that they didn't wilt down the stretch. After the Tigers made an 18-5 run to take a 55-50 lead with a little more than 12 minutes remaining, Maryland scored 11 straight points to take back the lead. After Clemson closed twice within one point, the second time at 66-65, McLinton and Downing hit back-to-back three-pointers to start an 18-6 run.
"We did a great job of playing 40 minutes. I think that was the key," said Gary Williams, who took home the ball from his 250th career coaching victory. "We never let it get away, and I thought that was the key against Florida State and Wake Forest."
One more difference for Maryland: It finally got some contributions from what little remains of the bench. Senior guard Matthew Downing, who had missed the past four games with a sprained left ankle, hit some big shots and helped cool down Whitney (eight of 11, seven of 10 threes). Freshman forward John Walsh looked more confident in his longest stint (10 minutes) of the season.
"The other fellows did a great job, especially down the stretch," Walt Williams said. "Everything came together. Kevin and Matthew Downing did a great job."
Downing started Maryland's comeback by somehow getting the rebound of a rare miss by Walt Williams (11 of 15 overall, six of nine from three-point range) and banking it in high off the backboard. He made three of five overall, including two of three three-pointers, to finish with eight points. He also had four rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes.
"Matthew Downing did a terrific job, not just defensively," Gary Williams said. "He made us more aggressive. We wanted our guards to shoot. Walt's been really hot on three-pointers [23 of his past 42], but you can't let four guys in the lane and one guy play tough on Walt. Somebody had to come through and break out."
It turned out to be McLinton. After shooting five of 24 from the field the past two games, McLinton was eight of 13 yesterday. He also had six assists and four rebounds in what he called "probably the best game I've ever played in a Maryland uniform."
As for Walt Williams, McLinton said, "I think he's the best player in the country right now." Though McLinton admitted to being a little biased, Clemson coach Cliff Ellis and Andre Bovain, who had the unenviable task of shadowing Williams in a box-and-one, seconded the motion.
"Walt Williams," said Ellis, "is the difference between these two teams."
Said Bovain, who had held Virginia's Bryant Stith to 11 points last week: "I got him frustrated a little big at the end of the first half, but he calmed down and went back to being Walt Williams again. He's a first-rounder, a lottery pick."
Williams picked up against Clemson where he had left off against Wake Forest, when he hit 15 of 21 shots in a career-high 39-point performance. He made his first five shots against the Tigers and his last five, and also inadvertently tapped a rebound into the wrong basket with 51 seconds to play.
"That was an accident," he said with a laugh.
Becoming the first player in modern ACC history to score at least 30 points in five straight games wasn't as important to Williams as was Maryland's first victory since an 83-69 victory over Rider. Even more significantly, the Terps now can take to the road for their next two games with a little more confidence.
"I think this will be the start of something," McLinton said.
Thankfully for Maryland, it was also the end of something.
NOTES: The Terps, who played three games in the past week, play only two in the next 11 days. Maryland will be at Virginia on Wednesday and at Florida State on Feb. 5. . . . Freshman F Geno Soto sat out his second straight game while his academic eligibility remains in limbo. His status is to be determined this week.
Walt Williams has scored 30 points or more in five straight games, a modern-day ACC record:
Opponent.. .. .. .. .. ..Pts.
North Carolina State .. .. 30
North Carolina.. .. .. .. .32
Florida State.. .. .. .. ..30
Wake Forest.. .. .. .. .. .39
Clemson.. .. .. .. .. .. ..31