Smith blocks off Clemson rally in 56-51 Terps win

January 26, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

CLEMSON, S.C. -- When a team experiences the kind of problems Maryland has had at Littlejohn Coliseum in the past decade, it will take anything that ends with a victory.

It will take nearly blowing a comfortable 13-point lead in the final 10 minutes. It will take not getting the ball to a red-hot Joe Smith for nine minutes in the second half.

It will even take scoring the fewest points ever in a victory since Gary Williams became coach six years ago. The eighth-ranked Terrapins had all those things happen to them last night against Clemson.

But they won.

"I like the way we were tough enough to hang in there," Williams said after Maryland escaped with a 56-51 victory, its first here in seven years and only its second since the 1984-85 season. "That was a game we could have lost."

Instead, Maryland (15-3, 5-1) won its fourth straight Atlantic Coast Conference game and its third on the road in the ACC this season. It gave the Terps a share of first place in the ACC and their best start since winning 17 of the first 20 games in 1979-80.

Smith continued his torrid shooting with an 8-for-8 performance, and led Maryland with 17 points. But it was his defense on Clemson's final possession that preserved the victory.

With the Terps clinging to a 54-51 lead, Smith blocked Clemson forward Rayfield Ragland's three-point attempt with 8.4 seconds to play. Exree Hipp then scored on a dunk to close the scoring. The Tigers left the floor with .02 of a second left.

"I knew from watching film that Ragland was a good three-point shooter and I figured he was going to take the shot," said Smith, whose last-second block was the only one he and Maryland had last night. "I was trying my best not to foul because the refs might be looking for a foul in that situation."

Said Ragland: "I knew he's a great shot blocker. When I shot, I was trying to force contact, but he stepped to the side. It was a clean block."

It was the fifth straight ACC loss for Clemson (10-5, 1-5) since it upset Duke here three weeks ago, but new coach Rick Barnes' scrappy team did not go down without a fight. In fact, the Tigers seemed one good shot away from knocking out the Terps.

Maybe it was sophomore guard Billy Harder's missed three-pointer from the corner with 40.8 seconds to go. It broke a streak of nine straight field goals by Clemson, including four threes, that helped the Tigers cut a 42-29 deficit with 10:17 remaining to 53-51 with 1:02 to play.

"We should have handled the last 30 seconds better than we did," said Barnes, who was trying to call timeout as Ragland shot. "We practice that situation. I felt like Rayfield Ragland let the crowd influence him on that last shot."

The announced crowd of 8,500 sounded twice as loud. While it might have provoked Ragland into rushing his shot, it didn't intimidate Maryland down the stretch. With Smith bottled up -- Clemson is the only team to hold him to single digits in scoring, doing it last season -- the Terps found other heroes.

They found sophomore forward Keith Booth, who made his first three-pointer of the season after seven misses for a 47-40 lead, connected on a pair of free throws for a 53-48 lead with 1:19 to play and came up with a crucial steal with 18.5 seconds to go.

They found Hipp, the junior forward who hit three of four free throws in the final 31.6 seconds despite being only a 65 percent shooter. Before the miss, and a subsequent two-shot miss by Booth, the Terps had made 10 straight at the line.

"When they started sagging in on Joe with that zone, everyone looked around and asked, 'Who's going to hit the shots?' " said junior guard Johnny Rhodes, who had a sluggish performance with six points and four of his team's 17 turnovers. "That shot by Keith was big. It shut the crowd up and that really pumped us up. I think that shot turned the game around for us."

It certainly helped, but it was Smith's defensive play at the end that won yet another game for Maryland. It was fitting, considering the way the 6-10 sophomore center had dominated offensively for the first 30 minutes.

By making all eight of his shots last night, and his last six in Sunday's win at North Carolina State, Smith has made 14 straight, one shy of former Maryland guard Greg Manning's ACC record for consecutive field goals. Smith is 18 of 20 in his past two games, 27 of 33 in his past three.

"I hope I keep it up," Smith said. "But we have scorers all over the floor."

Maryland didn't have many last night. Barely enough to win.

Someone mentioned to Williams that this was his first win at Littlejohn.

"I'll take it," he said.

NOTE: The 5-1 record in the ACC matches last year's start, when Maryland went to Duke and lost. The Terps play the struggling Blue Devils on Saturday at Cole Field House, and will be looking for their first win against Duke since 1987-88.

ACC STANDINGS

Team ...... ...... ACC ... Overall

North Carolina ... 5-1 ..... 15-1

Maryland ......... 5-1 ..... 15-3

Virginia ......... 5-2 ..... 11-5

Wake Forest ...... 4-2 ..... 11-3

Georgia Tech ..... 3-3 ..... 12-6

Florida State .... 3-4 ...... 9-6

N.C. State ....... 2-4 ..... 10-6

Clemson .......... 1-5 ..... 10-5

Duke ..... ....... 0-6 ..... 10-8

Yesterday's results

Maryland 56, Clemson 51

Ga. Tech 75, N.C. State 71

N. Carolina 100, Fla. State 70

Wake Forest 71, Virginia 70

Saturday's games

Duke at Maryland, 4 p.m.

N. Carolina at Wake Forest, noon

Clemson at N.C. State, 2 p.m.

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