Albert King and Ernest Graham were sufficiently spectacular to make up for an eight-minute cold spell, and Maryland defeated Clemson, 75-67, tonight in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The victory, the Terrapins' sixth straight over Clemson, earned them a spot in the semifinals Friday night at 7 against North Carolina. The Tar Heels have beaten the Terps eight straight times.
Duke and North Carolina State will follow at approximately 9 p.m. Both games will be televised on WJLA-TV 7.
Maryland led by as many as 15 points midway through the first half as King and Graham were firing bull's-eyes.
King finished with 20 points, and had two clutch baskets in the final minutes. Graham broke out of his slump with 18 points in a game that suddenly became close when Maryland failed to hit a field goal for eight minutes of the second half.
The Terps led, 64-54, with 10:29 remaining before they went cold. In the following eight minutes, the Terps went 0-for-5 from the floor and lost the ball four times, allowing Clemson to pull to 66-65.
King then became airborne over the lane and connected on a jumper to break the cold spell. But Clemson's John Campbell muscled over Buck Williams under the basket to cut Maryland's margin back to 68-67 with 2:12 left.
Maryland went to the four corners and Larry Gibson missed a hook.But King, in the right place at the right time most of the night, grabbed the rebound and in one motion swirled, and put the ball back up for a 70-67 lead with 1:19 left.
After a Clemson miss, Gibson sealed the Terp win with a free throw, upping the lead to 71-67 with 31 seconds left.
Dutch Morley then stole the ball and put in two free throws for a sixpoint lead with 21 seconds left.
In celebration, Morley batted the ball away from Clemson again, King grabbed it and passed to Graham for a flying back-over-his-head dunk.
Maryland shot 58.9 percent, had a slight edge on the boards and generally outplayed Clemson, with the exception of its cold eight minutes.
King, who has 50 points in his last two games, was at his best, calling for the ball inside, directing traffic and ordering arm-waving on defense.
"I don't know if there's any reason for it. I just hope I stay like I am," said King. "I am looking more for my shot inside.
"North Carolina will be a much harder game because North Carolina is a much better team," King continued. "Right now they're the better team, but if we put it together, we can beat them."
King was asked if Maryland (18-9 overall) could win three straight games against good competition in three days, something the team has not done this year.
"I'm on the team, so I think we can," replied King. "But it will not be easy at all."
King and Graham, who was eight of 12 from the floor, got help from Gibson (15 points and 12 rebounds) and Williams (14 points and eight rebounds).
Included in Williams' collection was perhaps the Terps' dunk of the year, a two-handed job in which Williams' waist appeared to be above the rim.
Williams, a candidate for ACC rookie of the year, was jubilant after the game.
"I feel like Carolina is overdue for a loss to Maryland," said Williams. "It can't continue."
"Everybody played well for us," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell. "Our inexperience showed in the second half. They made a strong run at us but we held our poise."
Clemson had four players in double figures, led by guard Billy Williams with 15. The Tigers, unable to sustain any rhythm against Maryland's changing defenses, fell to 18-9 overall.
"We did not really get after it in the first half," said Clemson Coach Bill Foster, who went to the locker room at intermission trailing, 40-33.
Maryland shot 66.7 percent in the opening half and had a combined 22 points from Graham and King.
"I don't know why," said Foster, "but I guess we were kind of a day late and a dollar short. If there was key to the game for us, it was our missed free throws."
Clemson hit five of 13 free throws, compared to Maryland's nine of 14. Maryland still had two fouls to give in the last minute of the game, when the Tigers were trying to catch up.
"Early in the game," said Clemson's Williams, "we couldn't hit anything over their zone. That got us in a hole.
"Then we started getting better ball movement, going inside. I think if we could have ever gotten even with them, we could have won."