CLEMSON, S.C. -- The Maryland basketball team that nearly upset top-ranked Duke in Durham, N.C., Thursday night showed up last night at Littlejohn Coliseum. Unfortunately for the Terrapins, they showed up a little late.
After trailing Clemson by 19 points in the first half, by as many as 22 in the second half and by 21 with a little more than nine minutes left, Maryland finally shook itself from its funk and had a legitimate opportunity to win.
But the Terps got no closer than seven points with a little less than four minutes left, and the hardly overwhelming Tigers pulled away down the stretch for an 82-70 victory before a crowd of 7,500.
Maryland (10-13, 3-10) all but locked up a spot in the play-in game to next month's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Clemson (14-9, 4-8) improved its chances for a postseason tournament bid.
"We're the type of team that needs to play with emotion, and we weren't emotionally ready," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who had feared a letdown. "We can't let the Duke game take the emotion out of us, but it did."
Not only did the Terps forget to take their emotions with them when they left Cameron Indoor Stadium, but they also forgot their jump shots. Maryland missed 20 of its 28 shots in the first half and 32 of its first 45 overall. It didn't help that Clemson came out fired up, and firing them up from the outside.
Behind the strong three-point shooting of sophomore guard Eric Burks, who hit four of Clemson's nine three-pointers and finished with 21 points, the Tigers led 36-17 with 2:29 left in the first half. After leading 36-20 at halftime, Clemson went up 57-35 with 10:31 to go.
"I think Clemson is an improved ballclub since the first time we played them," said Williams, alluding to an 84-71 victory for the Terps last month. "They did a very good job on defense early in the game, and they forced us to make our shots. We had a nice run, but at the same time, you get down 16 at the half on somebody else's home court, you're in trouble."
Said Clemson coach Cliff Ellis, "The difference in the game is that we came out smoking in the first half."
If the Terps did everything but make their last shot against the Blue Devils Thursday night before losing 91-89, they did everything wrong until making a furious rally last night. Though they ended up out-rebounding Clemson (48-47, including a career-high 15 for Evers Burns), all but 13 of those rebounds came in the second half.
Things got so bad that Williams tried nearly every combination possible, short of suiting up a couple of managers. Walt Williams finished with 34 points, including 28 in the second half, but that came after missing 12 of his first 14 shots. Williams was nine of 30 overall, and the Terps, who shot 65 percent against Duke, were a dismal 23 of 74.
Said point guard Kevin McLinton, "All the things we did against Duke we didn't do tonight. We went from being one of the top teams in the ACC . . . we stunk tonight, to put it bluntly. We can't keep playing like this if we expect to win any more games. Tonight was by far the worst we played in the ACC in two months."
And yet, the Terps still had a chance in the closing minutes. A run of 14 straight points closed the deficit to seven, 61-54, with 3:44 remaining, as the crowd and the Tigers seemed to get nervous. Maryland's full-court pressure had forced several turnovers and Clemson, the ACC's worst free-throw shooting team, began to throw up some bricks.
But Maryland didn't get it, as Chris Whitney hit a pair of free throws to push the Tigers ahead by nine, and Vince Broadnax missed an off-balance shot in the lane. Clemson got it back up to 14 and the Terps weren't heard from again.
"This was a good win," said Ellis, who is reportedly under pressure to keep his job. "It makes our season a success at this point because we will end up with a winning record. It is pleasing to be knocking at the door of postseason play."
The only door Maryland is knock-knock-knocking at is the one leading from the basement of the ACC. One more game like last night and it might be locked.
NOTES: Sophomore G Mike Thibeault of Glen Burnie did not dress for last night's game after missing the flight from North Carolina Friday morning. . . . The Terps play their first non-conference game in nearly two months Tuesday night, when they host North Carolina-Greensboro, a first-year Division I school.