Maryland vs. Clemson: Late free throws help Terrapins hold off Tigers
Saturday, January 22, 2011; 11:57 PM
The Maryland men's basketball team didn't need the smattering of boos that broke out during Thursday's poor performance against Virginia Tech to realize that its season was heading south. Nor did it need to review the stats from the 17-point drubbing, its worst home loss since Comcast Center opened in 2002.
But in case the message was lost on the underclassmen, the Terrapins' seniors rose during a team meeting on the eve of Saturday's critical game against Clemson and spoke about what it was like to miss the NCAA tournament.
"We told them about our experience in the NIT our freshman year," senior guard Adrian Bowie said. "It's not a fun experience. We didn't want to go back."
Saturday afternoon, Maryland got to work rehabilitating its flagging ACC record, edging Clemson, 79-77, before a capacity crowd at Comcast Center.
The Terrapins will need many more victories to bolster their NCAA tournament prospects, but this one meant the world to a team whose confidence and conference standing had been battered by losses in three of its first four ACC games.
"We needed to come back and prove to everybody, especially after playing bad against Virginia Tech, that we're a team to be reckoned with," said sophomore center Jordan Williams, who set a Maryland record by recording his 13th consecutive double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds).
Maryland (12-7, 2-3) let a 13-point first-half lead get slashed to one point four times in the second half, but the Terrapins sealed the victory in unlikely fashion, hitting 10 of 13 attempts in the final two minutes from the free throw line, where they have struggled all season (63.3 percent as a team).
Junior co-captain Sean Mosley, who was supplanted in the starting lineup for the first time this season, made a pair of foul shots with 12.2 seconds remaining to make it a three-point game.
Clemson's Devin Booker replied with a rim-rattling dunk, and Tucker then stepped to the line with 1.6 seconds left and Maryland up 78-77. As instructed, he made the first and missed the second on purpose. But instead of being rebounded by Clemson, as Coach Gary Williams had hoped, the ball rolled out of bounds. That gave Clemson a better chance to win at the buzzer, but the Tigers' desperate heave didn't fall.
Regardless of the modest margin of victory, Williams was pleased with his team's efficiency on offense (the Terrapins shot 50 percent) and the clutch free throw shooting.
"I'd say we're still a little fragile," Williams conceded when asked about his team's inability to put away the Tigers. "We had to find a way to win that game. I knew it wasn't going to be a 20-point win. Clemson's too good."
Williams deployed his fifth starting lineup of the season, with freshman Haukur Palsson taking Mosley's spot. Stoglin was re-installed at point guard after coming off the bench against Virginia Tech, a rebuke for being late to a team function. Palsson was called for two fouls and replaced by Mosley after roughly two minutes.
Mosley hit the Terrapins' first three-pointer to put Maryland up, 18-13, and a putback by Jordan Williams capped a 13-0 run that gave Maryland its biggest lead, 26-13.
But Clemson (13-6, 2-3) took the momentum into the break, closing the first half with seven unanswered points. What was once a 13-point Maryland lead was whittled to 40-36.
Clemson's Jerai Grant, a Bowie native who played at DeMatha, made it a 61-60 game with 6 minutes 6 seconds remaining, but Maryland's Dino Gregory, scoreless in the first half, came up with two clutch jumpers to make it 65-60.
But Williams, a 51.4 percent foul shooter, hit his biggest free throws of the season to put the Terrapins up, 71-66, at the 1:49 mark, and his teammates followed his lead at the line to secure the victory.