Led by senior forward Sharrod Ford, the Tigers shot, rebounded and defended their way to an 88-73 victory over No. 22 Maryland Tuesday night at a less than half filled Littlejohn Coliseum.
Ford tied his career-high of 25 points, while teammate and guard Shawan Robinson finally found the same stroke that he displayed in Clemson's first eight games of the season to finish with 22 points.
"I think we were due tonight," Ford said. "We've had some tough losses. It was finally our night."
The closest the Terrapins ever got in the second half was 45-33 with 18:52 remaining. From there, it was all Clemson as it eventually built a lead as high as 22 points.
"I think it's our best game all year because we stayed with our game plan," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "We've been getting better and it's nice to have something to show for it."
Clemson improves to 11-10 overall and 2-7 in the ACC, while the Terps drop to 13-6 and 4-4 in the ACC.
The biggest surprise of the night came from Clemson freshman reserve forward Sam Perry, who earned his first start of the season and provided enthusiasm on offense to finish with 14 points.
"It was just a matter of time before I came out," the ever confident Perry said. "I just stuck to my form of playing defense first and everything else took care of itself. … I know I could play. I'm a player and I'm here."
Defensively, Perry and senior Olu Babalola teamed up to shut down Maryland's leading scorer Nik Caner-Medley, who came in averaging 17.4 points per game. He finished with nine on 4-of-14 shooting.
"The main reason we got this win is because the coaches made a strong emphasis to improve our defense," Babalola said. "The coaches have been telling us that all year and it shows that if we listen to them, we can win. The coaches were right again.
"But Sam can guard anybody if he sets his mind to it. I'm more impressed with Sam and how he played (Caner-Medley)."
Purnell said he made the decision to start Perry and forward James Mays, who also earned his first start of the season, immediately following the loss to N.C. State on Saturday because the team needed a spark.
"I thought Sam and James brought us energy and that it went through the entire team," Purnell said. "This is how we have to play to win in this league. Hopefully this means we're getting better."
As a team, Maryland shot 39.3 percent from the field, while the Tigers made exactly 50 percent of their shots.
"Ford killed us," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "We couldn't stop him. … They had a lot of guys shoot the ball well tonight that hadn't been doing that. Maybe it was our defense."
Even though he screamed at the officials for most of the game, Williams refrained from talking about them. Instead, he made a backhanded jab at Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who criticized officials leading up to his game against the Terps and didn't get reprimanded or fined.
"I'm not allowed to say anything about the refs in the papers like some coaches can do in our league," Williams said.
The Tigers have waited a long time to put together a first half such as the one they did Tuesday night.
Clemson's defense was strong as it held Caner-Medley to no points. Also, Maryland didn't score a field goal the last 6:35 of the half. It missed its last 12 attempts.
Offensively, the Tigers shot 51.5 percent from the floor and 7-of-10 from the free throw line.
All this helped Clemson race to a 15-4 lead, but the Terps fought back and briefly held a 23-22 lead with 6:35 left. It was their last field goal as Clemson went on a 23-8 run to take a 45-29 lead at the half.
"We've watched everyone in the ACC have a good run except us," Babalola said. "We've proven to ourselves tonight that we can get the job done. Now, it's our turn to go on a run."
And that's exactly what will happen if Perry has anything to say about it.
"There's nothing like being the local hero," said Perry, who is a native of Piedmont. "It feels good to have your friends and family watch you play good and beat good teams. This is the start of something big for us and I'm going to be right in the middle of it."
|Officials:||Gary Maxwell, Mike Eades, Tony Greene|