Ellis gets farewell Terps gift

February 27, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Before yesterday's final home game at Littlejohn Coliseum, Cliff Ellis was presented with a plaque from the governor, a picture of his wife and a coffee table made from the floor his Clemson Tigers played on in winning the 1990 Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship.

Then the University of Maryland basketball team bestowed its almost annual gift on the outgoing Clemson coach -- another home victory.

In a game that kept both teams in contention for the National Invitation Tournament and in which freshman center Joe Smith was held to single figures for the first time, the Terrapins lost on the road for the second time in four days, 73-67.

It marked the seventh straight defeat here for Maryland (15-9, 7-7), the ninth in 10 years to Ellis, and prevented the Terps from ensuring themselves of the .500 ACC record that should be good enough for a bid to the NCAA tournament.

They remained in fifth place, but only a game ahead of Georgia Tech, and will finish the regular season this week at home against second-ranked Duke and Virginia.

"We missed some makable shots, and it never let us get any momentum," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team was coming off Wednesday night's loss at North Carolina State. "We missed a dunk with a little over two minutes left that would have put us ahead. We had a charge on a three-on-one situation. We paid the price for not executing in those situations."

The missed dunk, by freshman forward Keith Booth with 2:21 remaining, proved to be the critical play in the game. After Clemson (14-13, 5-9) failed to increase its 61-60 lead by missing five shots on the same possession, Booth came flying down as the trailer on a three-on-one break and went up for a one-handed dunk. The ball hit the back of the rim and sailed high in the air.

"When you're behind on the road, you've got to take some chances as long as they're aggressive," said Booth. "There was still a lot of time left, but maybe if we had gotten the lead, it could have made a difference."

Said Williams, whose team shot worse from the free-throw line (41.7 percent) than it did from the field (43.3): "We take the lead then, you don't know what happens."

Instead, the Tigers got a three-point shot from senior forward Jeff Brown (18 points), one of four he made on a day when Clemson hit eight of 13.

After Exree Hipp broke a string of five straight threes by Maryland, which was 10 of 24 overall, junior forward Devin Gray of Baltimore made both ends of a one-and-one to increase the Tigers' lead to 66-60.

The Terps, trailing by five after one of two free throws by Smith, still had a chance when Gray was called for a double dribble with 1:13 left. Smith, who was held to season lows of eight points and four rebounds in 24 foul-hampered minutes, made a short baseline jumper with 1:07 to play to pull Maryland within three.

But Clemson point guard Lou Richie drove for a layup on Duane Simpkins, who then rushed a three-pointer at the other end.

"He might have taken an off-balance shot, but he went for it," Williams said of Simpkins, who kept Maryland from falling apart, finishing with a team-high 18 points and seven assists. "Duane wants to be in that situation."

Simpkins was visibly upset in the locker room afterward, uncharacteristically declining to speak to the media.

Smith, who will likely be the ACC's Rookie of the Year and could be first-team all-league, took his poorest performance to date a little more calmly.

"Basically, I was trying to fight through it all day," said Smith. "If you start thinking it's not going to be your day, you'll get down on yourself. But it was frustrating being on the bench so long."

Said Williams: "Joe's a freshman. He's going to commit some fouls. Joe's probably had as few glitches in his game as any freshman I've ever coached. Hopefully, he'll put this game behind him and get ready for Duke."

Smith got two fouls in the first 9 1/2 minutes, sat out the last five minutes of the first half after picking up his third and picked up his fourth with only 1:10 gone in the second half, attempting to go for a steal of a long inbounds pass along the sideline. He stayed there until 9:18 remained, and Maryland hung in behind the long-range shooting of Simpkins and Hipp (15 points).

But the Tigers, who were also in a bit of foul trouble with Gray and junior center Sharone Wright, never allowed the Terps to get the lead. Each time Maryland tied the score -- at 49, 54 and 57 -- Clemson immediately came back with a basket. A rebound follow by Gray with 4:27 left put the Tigers ahead for good, 59-57.

"They're freshmen and sophomores, and we've got more experience than they do," said Gray, who finished with game-high totals of 19 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. "We should be tougher down at the end. And this is our gym."

And, barring an invitation to and home game in this year's NIT, it was Ellis' gym for the last time. He celebrated his 173rd victory -- the most ever by a Clemson coach -- by kissing his wife, Carolyn, and then kissing the floor before walking out.

"I'm just happy that it turned out this way," he said.

When Maryland comes to Clemson, it usually does.

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