Terps nearly trip at Clemson

Held to just nine points in first 16 minutes, UM recovers, escapes, 52-47

Nicholas: `Nobody played well'

15-0 burst late in first half helps pave road to victory

College Basketball

January 26, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

CLEMSON, S.C. - The sly grin on the face of senior guard Drew Nicholas revealed much about the state of mind of the Maryland Terrapins, who had just survived yet another perilous journey to Littlejohn Coliseum.

Maybe it was their national championship pedigree, their senior leadership, the will of their 14-year coach, or the sheer ineptitude of the Clemson Tigers. But at the end of a hard day when few good things happened with the ball in their hands, the Terps found a way to overtake Clemson and escape with a 52-47 victory yesterday that seemed like two hours in a dentist's chair.

Nicholas led the Terps with 14 points, but that's not the reason he was smiling. He wore the smirk of a thief who had gotten away with one.

"Nobody played well. I'm sure it was painful to watch. It was pulling teeth. Different guys just stepped up and did enough things and we were able to win," Nicholas said.

The setup was firmly in place for another struggle. The Terps were three days removed from their first Atlantic Coast Conference road victory, having dispatched North Carolina four days after dropping Duke from the No. 1 spot - the first back-to-back sweep over Duke and Carolina since 1981.

On top of that, the 12th-ranked Terps had trouble just getting to South Carolina on Friday night. Mechanical problems with their chartered plane caused them to arrive some five hours late.

Maryland proceeded to stage one of the worst offensive showings of the Gary Williams era, a painful exercise that yielded only nine points in the game's first 16 minutes.

"A lot of other teams wouldn't have been able to put together enough of an effort to win," Nicholas said. "That's a pretty good characteristic. At the end of the day, it's another win that keeps us in first place in the ACC. We'll take that. We won, and we're getting out of here."

After playing their third road conference game in four outings, committing 20 turnovers, shooting just 33.9 percent, having no one besides Nicholas hit double figures, and after scoring the fewest points in a victory since Lefty Driesell and Len Bias represented the school, the Terps (12-4, 5-1) were especially thrilled to beat Clemson for the 10th straight time, a streak that includes five in a row at Littlejohn.

To sum up yesterday's messy affair, consider that the last time Maryland scored fewer points in a victory was on Dec. 12, 1985, a 42-41 decision at West Virginia. The last time they scored fewer points on either end of the score was a 50-47 loss to Massachusetts on Dec. 2, 1995, in the Franklin National Bank Classic at recently imploded USAir Arena.

Oh, how ugly it was at Littlejohn, where, as bad as Maryland looked, the Tigers (11-4, 1-4) were even worse. Clemson has dropped three ACC games by a combined eight points.

The Terps, utterly flustered in the face of Clemson's matchup zone defense, missed 14 of their first 17 shots, did not produce one fast-break basket and trailed 21-9 with 4:20 left in the first half.

The Tigers were incompetent enough to make three baskets over a 20-minute stretch spanning both halves, shoot an anemic 4-for-18 in the second half and record four assists against 19 turnovers.

"This has been a very emotional week, a very tough week. We were able to survive that and come in here and find a way to win. We had to grind it," Williams said.

"There were no easy looks [on offense] for anybody. Clemson did things [on defense] to take us out of our stuff that other teams haven't done this year to the extent that they did. I just knew this would be a tough game. It always is down here."

Williams was recalling last year's visit, when Maryland had to overcome a double-digit deficit late in the first half before winning. Two years ago, both teams played run-and-gun in a wild, 104-92 Maryland victory.

Maryland essentially took the game from Clemson yesterday by matching the Tigers' bulk inside, out-working them on the boards, and by stunning them with a burst over the final four minutes of the first half. During that telling stretch, the Terps used their full-court pressure and half-court traps to create turnovers and easy points.

With a huge lift from Nicholas and freshman forward Travis Garrison, the Terps forced turnovers on five consecutive Clemson possessions - four by point guard Edward Scott (16 points) - and went on a 15-0 run that made it 24-21. Maryland led 24-23 at halftime.

Garrison, who lost his starting job last week and had barely played since, scored five of his seven points during the run. Nicholas, who had been silent for the game's first 18 minutes and finished 4-for-13, awakened during the run to hit two three-pointers and lead the team with eight points at the break.

"You never expect to have nine points that far into the game. We're a pretty high-scoring team," said senior forward Tahj Holden, who led a strong rebounding effort by grabbing a career-high 11.

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