CLEMSON, S.C. -- The emotional hangover was apparent when the Maryland basketball team arrived here yesterday. Some were trying to catch up on lost sleep. Others were trying to dislodge the memories from their heads.
An excruciating, 91-89 defeat Thursday night at top-ranked Duke was still very much the topic of conversation as Maryland prepared for tonight's 7 o'clock game against Clemson.
"It's hard, a lot of guys are still thinking about the Duke game," junior point guard Kevin McLinton said before practice last night at Littlejohn Coliseum. "But you've got to concentrate on the task at hand. If we do the things we did against Duke, we'll have a good chance to win."
Maryland (10-12, 3-9) did a number of good things against the Blue Devils. The Terps also did some amazing things: shooting a season-high 65.5 percent, making up a 14-point deficit in the second half, taking the lead with 38 seconds left and doing much of it without Walt Williams, who had fouled out with nearly seven minutes to go.
But in the end, it was not quite enough. McLinton, who had led the comeback and finished with a career-high 25 points and 11 assists, missed a running 14-footer with seven seconds left and Maryland behind, 90-89, after Tony Lang's rebound dunk 15 seconds before.
"The only thing we didn't do was win," said McLinton. "I don't think anybody can say we didn't outplay Duke."
Still, McLinton thought about that shot into the wee hours of yesterday morning. Evers Burns thought about the outlet pass that he threw too hard after Thomas Hill missed the second of two free throws with five seconds to go.
"I couldn't sleep, I kept waking up," said McLinton.
Said Burns: "It's in the past. We left it in Durham."
The question is this: Did the Terps leave their emotions splattered across the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where they played the 21-point favorite Blue Devils tougher than anyone since Arizona two years ago. The victory stretched Duke's winning streak there to 27 straight.
Maryland coach Gary Williams was looking for signs throughout the day, from the moment the players left their hotel across from the Duke campus until they got back onto the court last night. The Terps have developed into a resilient bunch under Williams, but this might be a little too much to bounce back from so soon.
"If we can emotionally be there tomorrow night, we'll be a very tough team," said Williams, who sounded as if he wasn't quite sure which Terps team would show up.
Said Burns: "It's going to be hard, but you don't want this to linger. If we do, we're going to be in trouble. We have to beat the thoughts [of Duke] out of heads and play Clemson as hard as we can."
Tonight's game certainly has its share of importance for both teams, who have struggled at or near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference all season but have each pulled off a couple of upsets and, as was the case Thursday night, near-upsets.
Clemson (13-9, 3-8) is coming off its own surprise, a 68-67 victory here Tuesday night over 16th-ranked Florida State. The Tigers, who lost at Maryland, 84-71, Jan. 25, also have knocked off Georgia Tech. Cliff Ellis had no problems getting his players' attention at practice yesterday.
"Automatically, there's a respect factor," said Ellis, whose team lost by 30 at Duke two days after losing in College Park. "Nobody in the league battles any harder than Maryland. Maryland goes to Florida State and wins. They go to Duke and nearly win. They can't go to the postseason. This is their postseason."
Tonight's game should have a bearing on the postseason, specifically the ACC tournament. With the addition this year of a play-in game between the eighth- and ninth-place teams the night before the tournament starts March 13 at the Charlotte Coliseum, both these teams and N.C. State (3-8) are trying to finish seventh.
Though Gary Williams recently said that "nobody likes to play in that game," it doesn't seem as distasteful now. That the winner of the play-in game will likely have to meet Duke doesn't scare the Terps as much as it might have before Thursday night.
"I'm really pleased with this team," said Williams. "You don't want to finish eighth or ninth, but that could happen. I'm pleased with the way we've come back. We weren't a very good basketball team at times this season, but I think Thursday showed how good we can be."
Tonight will show how well Maryland can bounce back from the mother of moral victories.