Terp offense goes in tank vs. Tigers UM can't overcome 16-point first half

Clemson wins, 68-61

Simpkins held to 5 points

Back from suspension, he sits in crunch time

February 25, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Senior Duane Simpkins rejoined Maryland's lineup yesterday, but when crunch time arrived at Littlejohn Coliseum, the man in control was freshman Terrell Stokes.

Whether it represented a formal changing of the guard -- or was merely a one-game disposition -- is uncertain.

But Maryland clearly was a team in transition during a 68-61 loss to Clemson.

After two straight games of 60 percent shooting, the Terps' offense hit the skids in a big way. They had season lows of four field goals and 16 points in a brutal first half, and fell behind by as many as 14 points.

A second-half surge led by Stokes came up short, and the Terps fell to fifth place in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 6-7. Overall, they are 14-10 with three games left in the regular season -- all at home.

Maryland coach Gary Williams absolved Simpkins of blame in the first-half collapse of the offense.

"I thought he was a little rusty from not having played in game situations, although he did practice with us," Williams said. "I thought he was OK. In a situation like that, especially the first half, it's never one guy. That was a team effort, just like when we play well.

"It wasn't Duane, it wasn't the fact that he started. It was just the way we play."

Simpkins sat out three games with an NCAA suspension he received for attempting to repay part of a university loan with funds he received from his former AAU coach in Washington.

Reinstated to the starting lineup yesterday, he scored five points -- six below his season average -- in a season-low 18 minutes.

Simpkins played just seven minutes in the first half, when he picked up two fouls. When he got his third with 2:38 to play in the game, trying to swat a rebound away from Clemson's Tom Wideman, he never returned.

"I felt like I came back a little in the second half," he said. "You come off for a couple of minutes, you just feel like you've got to start over again a little bit. From that standpoint, it got a little bit tougher.

"My main focus was to try to get everybody involved and try not to disrupt the flow, or whatever flow we may have had. If anything, I may have been just a little tentative because I didn't want to disrupt anything."

Simpkins got very little help from his teammates. His backcourt partner, Johnny Rhodes, hit just two of 11 shots and finished with a season-low seven points. Altogether, Maryland's four seniors shot a collective 8-for-27.

The irony of that statistic was rich because of a pregame statement Williams said he made to Clemson coach Rick Barnes.

"They're a good young team," Williams said of the Tigers (16-8, 6-8). "I told Rick before the game, sometimes you wish they would stay freshmen and sophomores."

Stokes got the critical minutes down the stretch. The heady 6-foot point guard scored a season-high 15 points, 10 in the second half. He hit a big three-pointer with 34.8 seconds left that got Maryland within three, at 63-60.

But Clemson hit four of its last five free throws and the Terps missed three treys after that to come up short. Maryland converted just six of its last 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Back-to-back dunks by Keith Booth (16 points) and back-to-back steals by Stokes triggered Maryland's comeback.

"I wanted to take over the game," Stokes said. "I started with defense, with the steals, pushing the ball up. . . . I saw I could take over the game at that period of time."

Simpkins didn't argue with the decision to go with Stokes down the stretch.

"When things are going well, I guess you stick with them," he said. "I'm not the coach, I just play."

Rhodes said he thought Simpkins had played well.

"I thought he had to get in the flow of things," Rhodes said. "He hadn't played in front of a crowd for three games, and I thought he handled that pretty well."

The Terps declined to use fatigue as an excuse, even though they played two games in less than 48 hours, both on the road.

"I don't think it had anything to do with fatigue," said Mario Lucas (10 points, eight rebounds). "I just thought we didn't do a good job getting ready to play."

After gathering momentum with two big wins, the Terps fell back into their inconsistent habits.

"That's been a characteristic of this team all year," Williams said. "Last year, with the talent we had, we were able to go out and play like that and still get wins at times. This year, you pay for it if you don't do everything right for both halves."

NOTES: After hitting 12 of 13 shots over two games, forward Rodney Elliott went shotless in a six-minute stint. . . . Greg Buckner led Clemson with 19 points and Terrell McIntyre had 17. . . . Maryland will try to rebound against Duke on Wednesday night.

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