Desperately needing a spark after a lackluster start, the Terrapins got one from Travis Garrison and Hassan Fofana. Both players came off the bench to provide points, rebounds, and most importantly, hustle during key stretches in both halves.
The game began tonight with only about 3,000 fans in the 10,000 seat LittleJohn arena primarily due to a snow and ice storm that was bad enough to close airports in South Carolina. As a result, there was not much energy in the building, and the play early on reflected that.
Concerned about his team's propensity toward turnovers (Clemson came in ranked #321 in the nation with 20.13 per game), Tiger coach Oliver Purnell started sophomore point guard Shawan Robinson over struggling freshman Vernon Hamilton. This move did not appear to have much of an impact, but the Tigers' offensive rebounding did. Clemson grabbed ten off the offensive boards in the first half, continuing a disturbing trend for the Terps.
It was a sloppy first half during which neither team could manage more than a four-point lead. Maryland did some defensive trapping at halfcourt in an attempt to push the tempo, but the Tigers were able to handle it well as long as they kept the ball off the floor. Once they tried to dribble, bad things happened for Clemson.
The Terps took their largest first half lead at 27-23 with 4:38 remaining, but did not score again until after halftime. The Tigers took advantage of this drought to score the final eight points and take a 31-27 lead into the locker room. Clemson used their 20-13 rebounding edge to offset 12 turnovers. Maryland committed 10 turnovers in the half, did not make a three-point shot, and made only 42% of their field goal attempts.
The Terps were clearly frustrated as the first half ended. The body language of the players was bad, and there was one play late in the half when John Gilchrist and Nik Caner-Medley yelled at each other after they had allowed a pass to go out of bounds. Allowing the Tigers to score the first two hoops of the second half to complete a 12-0 run certainly didn't improve their mood.
Without warning, the game turned around in Maryland's favor. Following a Clemson turnover, Gilchrist fed Jamar Smith for a layup. Smith stole the following inbound pass and fed Caner-Medley for a layup to force a Tiger timeout and draw the Terps back within 35-31.
Maryland tied the score at 38-38 on two free throws by Gilchrist, but Clemson jumped back out to a five-point lead when Olu Babalola drove through the Terp defense for a layup and Hamilton converted a three-point play. Then momentum took one more swing and found its final resting place for the night.
With the shot clock running down, Gilchrist banked in a three-pointer (I'm sure he called it) to bring Maryland back within two. This was the start of a 15-0 Terrapin run, climaxed by a Garrison three-pointer, that gave Maryland a comfortable 53-43 lead.
A three-pointer by Hamilton ended that burst, but a subsequent 10-0 run, featuring 6-6 from the foul line, put the Terps out to an insurmountable 63-46 lead with 2:52 left in the game.
After the game, Maryland Coach Gary Williams pointed to the key adjustment of pressing full court whenever possible in the second half to force the tempo and take advantage of Clemson's difficulties handling the ball.
Williams also praised the surprising contribution from Fofana, who had only played a total of one minute in the Terps' four previous ACC contests. "He gave us toughness," Williams said, "that we weren't getting the last couple of games. Fofana played 15 minutes and scored 4 points, grabbed two rebounds, blocked a shot, and had a steal. Not overwhelming numbers, to be sure, but a quantum leap from what he had been doing.
The other key reserve tonight was Garrison. Travis made a good case for regaining his starting job by playing his best game in a month. He scored 11 points, pulled down 5 rebounds, and came up with 2 steals in 28 minutes of action. More important than his numbers was his aggressiveness, something noticeably lacking from his game recently. Continued strong play from Garrison and Fofana will give Williams more options to match up against bigger teams like Wake Forest, who they play Wednesday night.
Gilchrist led the Terps in scoring with 15 points, 13 in the second half. Caner-Medley added 13 and Chris McCray has 11. Jamar Smith led all rebounders with 10. Speaking of rebounding, that number evened out in the second half. Maryland had a 37-36 advantage for the game.
Clemson finished the game with 20 turnovers and shot only 38%. Maryland committed 17 turnovers and shot 44%. One particularly encouraging stat for the Terps was their free throw shooting. Maryland made 14 of 18 attempts (78%), leading Williams to say "We're starting to get some confidence at the line."
Confidence was a key factor in this game. Williams said, "We didn't come in here with a lot of confidence, and it took us into the second half to get some tonight."
Winning on the road in the ACC is a good way to get a team to believe itself, even if that win comes at Clemson.
Notes from Under the Shell
Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell and his top assistant Ron Bradley are both former assistants at Maryland. Purnell worked at Maryland from the 1985-86 season through the 1987-88 season, and was the person Lefty Driesell asked to clean up Len Bias' room on the morning he died in 1986 (wisely, he did not comply). Bradley started at Maryland as a volunteer assistant to Lefty in 1981 and coached through the end of the Bob Wade era in 1989. He was then an assistant athletic director during the 1989-90 season.
Purnell is now 1-1 vs. Gary Williams. Purnell's Dayton squad defeated Maryland 77-71 at the Maui Classic in November 2000.
Maryland has now won 12 straight games vs. Clemson, including the last six at LittleJohn Coliseum. The Terps lead the all-time series 83-42. The Tigers last defeated Maryland on January 24, 1998.
Maryland's win dropped Clemson into last place in the ACC. A Tiger victory would have put the Terps in last place for the first time since a 0-3 start in 2000. That Maryland squad rebounded to finish second in the conference with a 11-5 record.
Maryland travels to Wake Forest for its next game on Thursday at 7:00 PM. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
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