Box Score | 2004-05 Schedule
Why else would a team that entered the contest with just two Atlantic Coast Conference wins handle a team that looks to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament?
Regardless of why it happened or how it happened, all that matters to Clemson is that senior Sharrod Ford had one of the best games of his career to lead the Tigers to the 97-93 victory over Maryland Tuesday night at the Comcast Center.
Ford scored 24 points, blocked nine shots, one shy of a school record, and grabbed 10 rebounds. Shawan Robinson added 17 points for good measure.
"You could see the look in their eye that they knew they were going to win, confident they were going to win," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "They could answer any challenge. I'm just real proud of them tonight, particularly coming off the North Carolina game."
All Clemson (13-13, 3-10 ACC) has to do now is win its remaining two home games against Florida State and Virginia Tech and the Tigers will qualify for the NIT.
"None of us have ever played in the postseason," said Clemson senior forward Olu Babalola, who scored 11 points. "And if that's not motivation for us as a team to win those games, then we shouldn't be playing the game at all."
The 97 points is the most ever scored by a Clemson team on the road in the ACC in regulation. The Tigers once scored 102 points on the road in the ACC, but it was in overtime.
Also, Clemson's 13 blocked shots as a team is fourth-best in school history, and the 41 free throw attempts is a season high.
"They were just bringing it to me," Ford said of his blocked shots. "I was just being real aggressive."
One stat that the Tigers manage to survive were the 29 offensive rebounds by Maryland (16-9, 7-7 ACC). There are no records if that is a record against Clemson, but rest assured that it's darn close if it's not.
"If they got that many offensive rebounds, that means our initial defense was pretty good," Purnell said. "But 29 offensive rebounds means I've got something I can talk to them about."
The win, though, was never fully secured until the closing seconds. Maryland used the Hack-A-Shaq theory and put the Tigers on the free throw line nearly every possession over the final 3:09 of the game.
And though it got a little hairy at times, the Tigers managed to knock most of them down to keep the lead.
"I've been in that situation too many time in college and in high school and lost," Babalola said. "But we didn't cave in. We hung tough and made some of our free throws. It wasn't pretty, but we still won."
When Clemson wasn't shooting free throws, it did an outstanding job of putting the ball in the goal as it shot a gaudy 58.2 percent from the field and came within one point of tying its season high of 98.
The Terrapins, however, shot just 40.7 percent from the floor, including 38.0 percent in the second half, which is one of the few times this year Clemson has held its opponent below 50 percent in the final 20 minutes.
"I kind of look at it as another step in the maturation process of our young group," Purnell said. "It was like a carbon copy of our first game. The main difference is you're in a hostile territory, coming off a game against Carolina where we didn't play well in hostile territory."
The Terrapins cut the lead to four points at 89-85 with 1:44 to play, but Clemson responded by sinking most of their free throws the rest of the way.
"We saw ourselves doing what we usually do, and that is fading away, but we didn't," Ford said. "We came together as a team and just stuck with it."
Just like in the first meeting between the two teams, Clemson raced to a quick double-digit lead in the opening half. The Tigers built the lead as high as 15 points at 21-6 with 12:56 remaining.
Against North Carolina, the Tigers scored a total of 23 for the entire first half.
But as expected, the Terrapins fought back and eventually trimmed the lead to 40-35 with 3:22 to go, but a 3-pointer and four free throws helped Clemson push the lead to 49-39 at halftime.
In those first 20 minutes, the Tigers shot 54.8 percent from the field, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. The only downside to their play was their free throw shooting, where they made just 10-of-17.
Another bright spot was that Clemson had balanced scoring in the first half as Sam Perry and Robinson each had eight points, while Ford and Babalola each added seven points.
"We just jumped on them instead of them jumping on us like Carolina did," Ford said. "We wanted to make the first hit."
The big difference of course is that Clemson never once gave up the lead.
The Tigers return home to play Florida State (11-16, 3-10 ACC) at 2 p.m. Sunday in another must-win game.
"This is a big win for us," Ford said. "But if we can beat Florida State, then it will be even bigger."
Clemson (13-13) - Perry 4-10 0-0 8, Mays 2-2 0-0 4, Ford 9-13 6-12 24, Hamilton 3-5 2-5 8, Hammonds 4-7 2-4 12, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Babalola 2-6 6-6 11, Moore 2-3 2-2 8, Robinson 5-7 4-6 17, Akingbala 1-2 3-6 5. Totals 32-55 25-41 97.
Maryland (16-9) - Garrison 6-13 4-5 16, Caner-Medley 9-15 2-3 23, Ibekwe 2-7 3-4 7, Gilchrist 4-16 1-2 12, McCray 9-16 2-2 21, Ledbetter 1-4 4-4 7, Gist 0-2 1-4 1, Grinnon 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 2-8 2-2 6, Bowers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-81 19-26 93.
3-Point Goals — Clemson 8-12 (Robinson 3-4, Hammonds 2-3, Moore 2-3, Babalola 1-2), Maryland 8-23 (Caner-Medley 3-5, Gilchrist 3-7, Ledbetter 1-1, McCray 1-3, Garrison 0-2, Jones 0-5). Fouled Out — Garrison, Ibekwe. Rebounds — Clemson 37 (Ford 10), Maryland 47 (Gilchrist 10). Assists — Clemson 12 (Robinson 3), Maryland 18 (Gilchrist 5). Total Fouls — Clemson 26, Maryland 29. Attendance — 17,950.
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