Holden steps in as Terps step on Clemson, 74-62

Sub for Morris gets 12 points, 10 rebounds

January 23, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- There was a dark side to Lonny Baxter's emergence as an inside force for the Maryland basketball team last season. His first collegiate start was Obinna Ekezie's final game as a Terp, as Baxter was forced to take on a larger role when the amiable center suffered a college career-ending injury in practice.

This time, No. 24 Maryland gained another contributor without having a major hit disrupt its roster.

The Terps handled lowly Clemson, 74-62, before 14,500 at Cole Field House yesterday, as preseason All-American Terence Morris rested his ailing left ankle and freshman forward Tahj Holden stepped in with another fortuitous performance. Morris is expected to return for Wednesday's trip to North Carolina.

Maryland (13-5, 2-3) completed a get-well week in the Atlantic Coast Conference with its second commanding victory in four days. Clemson (6-12, 0-5) never got closer than 11 points in the last 26 minutes, and while coach Gary Williams said he never felt threatened in the second half, he did fret beforehand.

"You play a game without an All-American," Williams said, when asked if he viewed the ACC's weakest team as an opportunity to add seasoning to some of his younger players. "I didn't feel before the game that it was developmental. I was very concerned. That's the first game Terence has missed in his career here."

After 83 straight games with Maryland, the past 51 as a starter, Morris was forced out by a second-degree sprain to his left ankle. He wore a black sweater, black slacks and black shoes, and since the Terps needed to lighten the mood, Williams cracked on Holden as the rookie waited to be the last starter introduced.

"I told him, `Here it's your first start, and you're the last guy being introduced. Usually that takes until your senior year,' " Williams said. "I was just trying to get his mind off of things a little bit."

Holden's 6-foot-10, 235-pound frame left an imprint on Clemson with a stat line that was, well, Morris-like. He scored 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting and collected career highs of 23 minutes, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Holden scored 24 points in Maryland's first 16 games; he collected 29 last week on 9-for-13 shooting.

"I guess I made a little statement that I could do a little bit of everything," Holden said.

Williams has a quandary: Whom to nominate for ACC Rookie of the Week? While Holden went from pine to prime time, point guard Steve Blake established himself as a defensive stopper. He shut down Wake Forest's Robert O'Kelley in Wednesday's 18-point rout, then limited ACC leading scorer Will Solomon to 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting.

Solomon's first two attempts were air balls, and he didn't score until the 17th minute. He also committed six turnovers.

"I thought Steve Blake was excellent early in the game, just eliminating Will with the ball," Clemson coach Larry Shyatt said.

Morris' production was replaced collectively, as all five Terps starters scored in double figures for only the second time this season. Blake was scoreless for 26 minutes, then erupted with three-pointers on successive possessions. Baxter had 10 points and nine rebounds; forward Danny Miller had 15; and guard Juan Dixon had 18 despite being the attention of a box-and-one defense.

With Morris out, Shyatt marked Dixon, packed the paint and dared Maryland's other shooters. The Terps had a season-low 11 turnovers and jacked up a school-record 31 three-pointers. They made 10, one short of their all-time best.

Maryland made five of its first 12 shots from long distance, the fifth being a Miller bomb from the left corner that gave it a 23-11 lead with 8: 24 left in the first half. The Terps missed 10 of their next 11 from long distance, but with only six scholarship players available and nine in uniform, Clemson just didn't have the guns to mount a meaningful run.

Williams, meanwhile, used the first half to mix his four freshmen with reserve center Mike Mardesich, whose follow dunk in transition was maybe the most athletic play of his college career.

Baxter's put-back made it 38-19 late in the first half. Minus Morris, its only player with a start to his credit before this season, Maryland's youngest starting lineup in six years didn't have the maturity to immediately bury the toothless Tigers. The Terps allowed Clemson to get within 52-41 with 8: 02 left, but a Solomon technical contributed to a 9-0 spurt that got Maryland its first 20-point lead.

The Terps' fourth straight win over the Tigers put them in a good frame of mind to continue some other trends. Maryland has won three of its past four games at the Smith Center, while the Tar Heels have lost four straight for the first time since 1992.

"We didn't have the All-American [Morris], and I guess I'm the second wheel," Dixon said of the box-and-one that Clemson cooked up in the absence of the ACC's preseason Player of the Year. "It's hard, because it seemed like I got all of the attention. Hopefully he'll be back Wednesday, so all of the attention will be back on him."

Next for Terps

Opponent: No. 21 North Carolina (11-8)

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

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