COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland Terrapins had been living dangerously for a while. They fell behind by double-digit deficits, but somehow managed to come back. They missed loads of free throws, but somehow managed to make them when they counted. They got into foul trouble, and mostly survived.
Last night's game against third-ranked Clemson at Cole Field House was a microcosm of their season, with one notable exception. The 11th-ranked Terrapins lost, 67-63, but not without nearly answering the prayers of a sellout crowd of 14,500 and giving the Tigers a chance at having some pretty good nightmares.
In suffering its first loss of the ACC season, Maryland (14-2, 4-1) made things exciting down to the final, frantic seconds. Trailing 61-53 with 2: 53 left, the Terrapins climbed within 65-63 on a three-point shot by Terrell Stokes with 7.4 seconds to go. But senior guard Merl Code hit two free throws with 6.8 seconds left to clinch the victory.
"I thought our team showed a lot of guts," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We'll get better. I don't take losses well, but I am happy with our team's effort. This was a one-game, one-time thing. We will go and play the next one."
The defeat prevented Maryland from setting school records for its best overall start as well as its best start in the ACC. It also showed that the Terrapins might have to work on their ball-handling (20 turnovers) and free-throw shooting (9-for-18, including six straight misses at the end of the first half) before Sunday's game at No. 2 Wake Forest.
The victory was the fifth without a defeat on the road this season, and the third in the ACC, for Clemson (15-1, 4-0). The difference down the stretch was a second-chance three-pointer by Terrell McIntyre that helped the Tigers to their eight-point lead and the way they hit their free throws.
Along with McIntyre's three-pointer, which came after junior Greg Buckner rebounded a missed three-point attempt by the sophomore point guard, Clemson center Tom Wideman made both ends of a one-and-one with 25.8 seconds to play to hold the Terrapins at bay. The Tigers hit their last six after making only two of their first eight.
'I was really pleased with our poise down the stretch," Clemson coach Rick Barnes said after winning for the first time in College Park, the first victory for the Tigers on Maryland's court in four years. "This is a real compliment to our players."
Buckner, a preseason All-American, led the Tigers with 16 points, and McIntyre added 13 points and five assists. Sophomore Vincent Whitt gave Clemson 12 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes, and hit a couple of big baskets to prevent Maryland from taking a lead into its locker room at halftime.
Booth led Maryland with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but was limited to 32 minutes after picking up two quick fouls in the first half and then two more early in the second half. Junior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius and sophomore guard Laron Profit helped keep the Terrapins in the game when Booth and sophomore center center Obinna Ekezie got into foul trouble.
Jasikevicius thought Maryland's first-half free-throw shooting played a factor in the game's outcome. Though the Terrapins nearly caught the Tigers by halftime, and took one-point leads twice in the second half, they never could take control of the game and send the crowd into a frenzy for a sustained period.
"Everyone will say it came down to the last couple of minutes, but you can't miss free throws like that in an ACC game," said Jasikevicius, who finished with 15 points but missed a pair of foul shots himself. "It was building the whole second half. We've got to eliminate those mistakes."
Said Profit, who overcame another slow start to finish with 14 points, five rebounds and a career-high seven steals, "We liked our chances [at halftime]. We feel we let it slip away at the end. We feel like we could have won, but we know we could also play a lot better."
While its pressure defense helped the Maryland climb back from early deficits of 23-11 and 27-17, as well as force the ACC's best ball-handling team into its highest turnover total (23) in the past two years, the Terrapins couldn't make enough plays to win. The rebound that Buckner pulled to set up McIntyre's three-pointer will stay in Williams' memory for a while.
"That hurt us," he said.
Maryland now will try to do something that no team has accomplished in a couple of years -- beat the Demon Deacons at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. Last night's defeat did nothing to deter the confidence of the Terrapins, who have proved to be resilient all season. That Virginia played Wake Forest close there last night certainly helps.
"It's a game we can learn from," Booth said. "We had a chance to win the game but we just didn't get over the hump. We're going to have to learn how to handle those situations when the game is on the line."
School .. .. .. ..ACC .. .. ..Overall
Wake Forest .. ...5-0 .. .. .. ..13-0
Clemson .. .. .. .4-0 .. .. .. ..15-1
Maryland .. .. ...4-1 .. .. .. ..14-2
Duke .. .. .. .. .2-2 .. .. .. ..13-4
Virginia .. .. ...2-3 .. .. .. ..11-5
Tech ... .. ..1-3 .. .. .. ...7-7
Fla. State .. .. .1-4 .. .. .. ...9-4
N.C. State .. .. .0-4 .. .. .. ...8-5
Clemson 67, Maryland 63
Wake Forest 58, Virginia 54
Ga. Tech 71, Fla. State 58
Duke 87, NC-Gr'boro 59
N.C. State at N. Carolina
Pub Date: 1/16/97