Clemson deflates Terps

High-flying UM shot down, losing first since 1997 to last-place Tigers, 88-73

February 02, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

CLEMSON, S.C. -- They had just won their second game over a ranked team in five days to seemingly jump-start a once dreary-looking season, and the Maryland Terrapins were saying all the right things.

They talked about going down to Clemson and playing with great effort and emotion. They vowed to keep the momentum going, rather than suffering a letdown against the last-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The words meant little last night as the 22nd-ranked Terps landed with a thud.

In the latest chapter of a season that is growing eerily similar to last year's up-and-down campaign, the Terps were embarrassed by Clemson, 88-73, at Littlejohn Coliseum, a place where Maryland usually makes itself at home.

The Terps (13-6, 4-4 ACC) had won six straight games here and 13 consecutive overall over the Tigers, but gave no indication at any time last night that they were playing at a high enough level to beat the inspired Tigers, who hadn't won since Jan. 12. It apparently was so long between victories that the Tigers' fans stormed the court after the game.

"It's definitely disappointing," said junior guard Chris McCray. "You want to win games that you are supposed to win. We were supposed to win this game. We have to know what team we want to be. We don't want to be this team, all hanging our heads."

Clemson (11-10, 2-7) book-ended the first half with a game-starting 10-0 run and a half-closing 23-6 spurt and outplayed the lifeless Terps in every possible way. Maryland clearly looked tired after outlasting Georgia Tech on Sunday, but neither Terps coach Gary Williams nor junior forward Nik Caner-Medley was interested in excuses.

"We're young [and playing two games in three days] shouldn't be an excuse," said Caner-Medley, who shot just 4-for-14 last night and didn't make his first field goal until 4 1/2 minutes had elapsed in the second half. "I thought they played a lot better than a 1-7 team."

Added Williams, whose team hadn't lost to Clemson since 1997: "We obviously weren't in a great mental frame of mind to start the game. ... We looked slow. There's no excuses. We just didn't get it done. The [short turnaround] shouldn't have mattered with our effort."

Exposing weaknesses that Duke and Georgia Tech could not last week, Tigers 6-foot-9 forward Sharrod Ford bullied the Terps all over the place inside, tying a career high with 25 points (on 10-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds. He fouled out Terps big men Ekene Ibekwe and Travis Garrison before the eight-minute mark of the second half.

Both Garrison and Ibekwe fouled out while each playing less than 22 minutes.

"Ford killed us," said Williams. "We didn't have an answer for him."

So good last week in holding the Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils to under 35 percent shooting, the Terps defense allowed Clemson, the lowest-scoring team in the ACC, to shoot 50 percent from the field. Shawan Robinson added 22 points and Sam Perry pitched in with 14 for the Tigers.

The Tigers' aggressive man-to-man defense also gave the Terps fits. Caner-Medley, who averaged 24 points in his five previous games, finished with nine points and teamed with point guard John Gilchrist (18 points on 3-for-12 shooting) to shoot a combined 7-for-26.

Only Sterling Ledbetter had any success in breaking down the Tigers' defense. He scored 10 points in a career-high 26 minutes. Ledbetter had given Maryland its first lead of the night at 23-22 with 6:40 to play in the first half, but the Terps, who got back into the game thanks to an 12-2 run, would not get another field goal before intermission, watching a two-point lead turn into a 45-29 halftime deficit. Overall, they missed their last 13 shots of the first half.

"There's no question that our defense and rebounding were ahead of everything tonight," said Tigers coach Oliver Purnell, whose team achieved its biggest lead at 66-44 with 10:34 left.

Littlejohn Coliseum was a little more than half full at tip-off and Maryland, which was buoyed by the taunts from the Cameron Crazies last week, also started the game with a collective yawn. The Terps turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions and found themselves down 10-0 before three minutes had elapsed.

By the eight-minute mark of the first half, all three Terps post players -- Will Bowers (who started his third straight game), Ibekwe and Garrison -- had two fouls as the Tigers pounded the ball inside to Ford, who responded with 13 first-half points.

"You might say we didn't come as mentally ready as we should have," said Gilchrist. "I didn't think we overlooked them, but tonight they really wanted the game. We let them hit a couple of shots early and feel like they can play with us."

On one inbounds play in the first half, freshman James Gist tried to feed Gilchrist, who had run upcourt. The ball landed in Terps reserve Darien Henry's lap on the bench. It was one of many miscues for the Terps, but it summed up what was a miserable night here.

"We couldn't shoot, Clemson played great defense, we ran a lousy offense," said Williams, whose team heads back on the road to play Miami on Saturday. "We're 4-4. Anything can happen. Hopefully, we learned tonight about getting ready to play."

Next for Maryland

Matchup: No. 22 Maryland (13-6, 4-4) vs. Miami (13-6, 4-4)

Site: Convocation Center, Coral Gables, Fla.

When: Saturday, 3 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

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