Terrapins Hit the Road, Fall Hard to Lowly Tigers

Forward Travis Garrison blocks the shot of Clemson's Steve Allen, but Maryland couldn't stop the Tigers from pulling away in the second half.
Forward Travis Garrison blocks the shot of Clemson's Steve Allen, but Maryland couldn't stop the Tigers from pulling away in the second half. (By Mary Ann Chastain -- Associated Press)
By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

CLEMSON, S.C., Feb. 14 -- As the final seconds ticked away, Maryland's Ekene Ibekwe shook his head and punched the palm of his hand. Nik Caner-Medley slowly dribbled out the clock, offering little more than a blank stare as the buzzer sounded.

Frustration was palpable after Clemson beat Maryland, 89-77, on Tuesday to undercut the Terrapins' chances of returning to the NCAA tournament.

The loss, the fourth straight to the Tigers, left Maryland Coach Gary Williams as angry as he has been all season and players unable to pinpoint the specific problem.

"This time of year," Williams said, "you are what you are."

This was not a reenactment of last season, when Clemson beat Maryland three times to crush the Terrapins' tournament hopes. This was worse.

Clemson (15-10, 4-8 ACC) had lost seven of its last eight games and played Tuesday without leading scorer Vernon Hamilton, who has an elbow injury.

The Terrapins failed to defend outside shooters, failed to protect the ball and failed, in Williams's view, to "compete" during the first 10 minutes of the second half, when Clemson went on a 22-3 run to take a commanding 18-point lead. The Terrapins made a frantic late-game rally to cut the deficit to seven, but it was not nearly enough.

Maryland (15-9, 5-6) is watching its season unravel without Chris McCray, who was ruled academically ineligible Jan. 23. The Terrapins are 2-5 without McCray and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.

Maryland likely needs at least an 8-8 record in the ACC to position itself to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While the Terrapins still have five remaining regular season games, including three on the road, there is little evidence to suggest they can find consistency, particularly on the road, where they are 1-5.

"Right now everyone on this team has to do a lot of soul searching," Caner-Medley said, "look at themselves in the mirror and think about how bad they really want to win and how bad they really want to prepare and how bad you want to dedicate yourself to this game."

Mike Jones, who finished with 19 points, played with cramps during the second half. Williams said D.J. Strawberry was sick throughout the game.

A depleted back court may have contributed to Maryland's poor perimeter defense, which has been a problem for the past six weeks. Clemson entered the game as one of the weakest three-point shooting teams in the ACC, but the Tigers prospered Tuesday, making 12 of 28 from beyond the arc.

The most successful long-range shooter was a familiar face, Shawan Robinson, who started in place of Hamilton. Robinson, who made 14 three-pointers in the three Clemson victories against Maryland last season, made five Tuesday en route to a game-high 24 points. Robinson said he was open on most of his outside shots.

"We're not defending anyone from the three-point line right now," Williams said.

Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell said he did not rely on three-pointers just because Maryland had struggled with perimeter defense. He felt center Akin Akingbala, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, gave Clemson enough of a post presence to attract defenders and open up opportunities for the outside shooters.

Midway through the second half, Williams said, he switched to a smaller lineup in an attempt to turn the game into a "scramble" as the team tried to rally. But there were just too many turnovers -- 26 in all -- for Maryland to make a dramatic comeback.

"You've got to be ready to play. I can't go out there and play," Williams said. "When you have seniors and juniors, they know what the deal is . . . to get ready to play."

After the game, Williams said, he told the team simply to get ready to play Georgia Tech at home Saturday. Maryland also needs to solve an assortment of problems, but it's hard for players to put a finger on the most significant.

"I don't really think you can pinpoint one thing," said Caner-Medley, who finished with 21 points, "and that's probably the biggest problem."

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