Terps hit dead end again on road, 80-68 Clemson's 10-0 run early in 2nd half spurs third loss in 4 games

UM falls to 4th in ACC

Ekezie fouls out again, plays only 12 minutes

February 09, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CLEMSON, S.C. -- It took more than two months and 22 games for the Maryland Terrapins to hit the wall. When the collision finally came, early in the second half of yesterday's Atlantic Coast Conference game against 10th-ranked Clemson, the seventh-ranked Terrapins landed in a heap.

And for the first time all season, they did not get up.

The result was an 80-68 defeat at sold-out Littlejohn Coliseum, the first decisive loss of the season for the Terrapins and their third in the last four games. The defeat helped drop Maryland (18-5, 7-4) into fourth place in the ACC for the first time all season.

"This was a road game and while we have had some success on the road in the league this season, it is tough," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team had not lost by more than five points in an ACC game. "We have to remember this is only one game, and forget about it and get back home."

After playing solidly at both ends of the court in the first 15 1/2 minutes and twice leading by as many as eight points, the Terrapins unraveled quickly. They saw the Tigers take the momentum and the halftime lead with a 13-3 run. Then, with the score tied at 31 early in the second half, Maryland watched Clemson (18-4, 7-3) take control.

More specifically, the Terrapins saw Terrell McIntyre take over. The sophomore guard's four-point play -- he hit a three and was fouled -- triggered a 10-0 burst from which Maryland never recovered. McIntyre scored nine of his 21 points in less than two minutes. The Terrapins trailed by as many as 15 points twice and never got their deficit closer than nine as Clemson kept going to the free-throw line, hitting 33 of 48.

"I think the rest of the guys feed off of Terrell, and when he hit that first three, his confidence went up and so did the team's," said Clemson coach Rick Barnes, whose Tigers had lost three of their past four ACC games coming in, mostly due to poor three-point shooting.

Said junior forward Greg Buckner, who finished with game-high totals of 23 points and 10 rebounds, "That shot sort of pushed us over the edge. After that we went back to playing like we were last month. They had trouble stopping us."

That is an understatement. With sophomore center Obinna Ekezie fouling out, playing a season-low 12 minutes, Maryland's interior defense was nearly nonexistent. Nor did the Terrapins give sophomore point guard Terrell Stokes much help with McIntyre, who got many of his second-half shots off crunching screens.

Ekezie wasn't the only Maryland player hampered by fouls, but his recent stretch that has included fouling out in his team's recent losses to Wake Forest (24 minutes) and Florida State (29 minutes) is a source of concern considering that the Terps have nobody else with his bulk.

"I have to figure out what I'm doing wrong," said Ekezie, who picked up his fourth and fifth fouls 27 seconds apart and left the game with 11: 02 to play. "I was very disappointed in the way I played. I feel I let my team down. We just got overpowered TC inside."

Maryland's perimeter defense wasn't much better. Although the Tigers missed their first six threes yesterday before reserve forward Tony Christie hit one toward the end of the first half, Clemson hit its first four in the second half.

In all, the Tigers scored on seven of their last nine possessions in the first half to turn deficits of 13-5 and 24-16 into a 29-27 lead, the go-ahead shot coming on a layup by McIntyre with 5.1 seconds left in the half. After Iker Iturbe threw away a pass in the backcourt on the opening possession of the second half, Clemson scored the next seven times it touched the ball.

"I thought we did a good job in the first half, but we didn't do the same things in the second half," said Williams, whose team also committed 23 turnovers, the same number the Terrapins forced in a 67-63 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 15 at Cole Field House. "We didn't play the same way."

Said senior forward Keith Booth: "We got too passive in the second half and it cost us."

But Maryland's soft defense and Ekezie's foul problems were only part of the problem yesterday. With their biggest player on the bench most of the afternoon, the Terps had trouble getting the ball inside to Booth in the second half.

Much of it had to do with Clemson's collapsing matchup zone. Booth finished with 19 points, just about his season's average, and junior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 16. But after scoring twice early in the second half, Booth didn't have a field goal in the last 14 minutes.

"This is a tough loss, but we've got a few days to recover," said Booth, who for the first time this season seemed a bit frustrated on the court. "We need to get tougher. The last couple of weeks [of the regular season] are always harder. Our job is to be ready the next time we play."

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