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There may not have been a game with more meaning for the young Terps than the one scheduled Saturday afternoon, just 40 hours since they barely looked competitive in a 17-point loss to Virginia Tech.
And as a final desperation heave from a red hot Demontez Stitt clanked off the backboard as the clock struck zero, the win finally belonged to the home team.
"[Stitt's shot] looked really good. It looked like it was on line so I got scared for a minute," senior guard Adrian Bowie said after the game. "I'm glad he missed it." The miss secured Maryland from avoiding a three-game losing skid and a fourth loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In the final two minutes of the game, Clemson forced Maryland to the free throw line, the team's bugaboo all season long. Thirteen times up, 10 successful. It was the second most trips to the stripe for the team this year, six less than in their season opener.
The "hack-a-Terp" strategy set in when Jordan Williams first stepped to the line, who previously converted just two of seven attempts. But with the game on the line, he answered with two straight. From then on it became more contagious than The Jonas Brothers.
"The last 10 minutes we played as a team. It wasn't one guy. It wasn't two guys. It was the whole entire team. We just all played like a family out there. That's why we won the game," Williams said. "[Clemson] fought until the end but we fought a little harder."
Williams finished the afternoon with a team-high in points (16) and rebounds (11), en route to his 13th consecutive double-double. What started after season-low six points against Delaware State before Thanksgiving came to fruition when he grabbed his 10th rebound nine minutes into the second period.
Sole possession of the Maryland career consecutive double-double streak belongs to Williams, who surpassed Terp great Len Elmore, a name exhausted in the record books. Astutely and humbly, the sophomore center is just glad it culminated with a win.
"Had we lost the game I probably wouldn't have felt the same. To do it at home and to do it in front of these great fans is definitely an honor," Williams said.
Perhaps in this game more than any other, Williams got the ultimate assist from his mates. Three other Terps – Terrell Stoglin, Cliff Tucker and Bowie – all registered in double-digit scoring. Unlike their previous contest against Virginia Tech, when Williams was double-teamed in the post, the perimeter shooters connected and the lanes were penetrated, opening up the offense in what head coach Gary Williams called "a big step" going forward.
Bowie accounted for 13 points, five assists and four rebounds, including three of the made free throws and a rebound in the waning minute. He played like a senior, according to his head coach, grabbing control of the team.
"He's starting to look like a senior out there," Williams said, adding that at one time Bowie was playing with a jolt of swagger.
Likewise, Bowie was one of the three seniors to take their uncharacteristic loss on their home court earlier in the week to heart. His head coach hoped it somewhat of an aberration; playing in such a listless fashion is something you would hardly expect to see from a Gary Williams-coached team.
So when the trio of seniors approached the team at the hotel Friday evening, they conveyed the sense of urgency they had to play with from this point on. After all, your final season is the last taste you're left with once you leave College Park. And there was no way Bowie and Co. wanted to miss out on the N.C.A.A. Tournament as they did when they were freshmen.
"We spoke on the experience of just being [at the N.I.T.] and how we just never want to be there again," Bowie said of his message, bothered of the notion of missing out on the big dance this season. "Hopefully this is a stepping stone."
Bowie returned to the starting lineup after surrendering his spot to Tucker, the team's best perimeter defender, when facing Malcolm Delaney. He was joined by the pride of Iceland, Haukur Palsson, better known as "Hawk." It was the team's fifth different lineup in the past eight games.
Intended to jumpstart the team coming out of the gate, Palsson replaced Sean Mosley. The junior who scored over 10 points per game as the fourth option in 2009 had been averaging just south of seven points in the last five contests, noticeably faltering against tougher competition. Mosley scored seven, eight, six and six points against Pittsburgh, Duke, Villanova and Virginia Tech, respectively.
Palsson "got us flying," said Williams, but it was Mosley who provided the scoring in the midst of the team's 13-0 run in the first half. Timely three-pointers from Mosley, Tucker and Stoglin, in addition to rigid defense forcing Clemson into a shot clock violation and four missed shots in a series in which they grabbed three offensive boards, helped the team to take the lead they would never waive.
The closest Clemson came was when Stitt, the team's leading scorer, erupted in the final two minutes. Stitt did his best Kobe Bryant impression, scoring nine points after being held to zero for the previous 16 minutes.
If Stitt is Batman then Jerai Grant was Robin. The Bowie native and DeMatha Catholic product scored 15 points, none more important than the back-to-back lay-ins he had with six minutes left. But despite drawing the charge on both plays, Grant missed both of his free throw attempts, essentially the difference in this game.
Maryland's 12th victory on the season should help provide the team with a source of confidence. Next up is a road trip across the border to Charlottesville, Va. for a Thursday night showdown with the Cavaliers, who took down Georgia Tech earlier in the day. The game against Virginia is the first of a two-game road trip for the Terps before returning home for a rematch with Duke.