Welcome back, Albert.
Welcome back, Terps.
Last night, 22 games into this most frustrating of seasons, Maryland welcomed back its best player, its own kind of basketball and memories of the wondrous season that was 1980, beating Clemson, 72-70, on Ernest Graham's follow of an Albert miss with one second left.
That King missed the shot -- by a mile, was almost irrelevant. But hitting 14 of 22 shots before that, he forced Clemson to double-team him on the last play. That left Graham alone with Fred Gilliam.
"At first I was just watching, looking maybe for a pass," said Graham, who finished with 17 points. "But I was too far away for a pass so I decided I better get to the boards. He (Gilliam) was looking Albert and he just kind of stood there a second.I just ran in and got it."
He got it because the shot was so far off that it missed the rim, hitting only the right side of the backboard. That meant Clemson's other rebounders in front of the basket had no chance to get the ball and Graham had a layup with nobody near him.
The victory, on a night when Clemson shot 64 percent, ended the Terps' two-game losing streak and raised their record to 6-4 in the ACC, 16-6 overall. Clemson, which has lost 10 of 11 over the last four games to Maryland, dropped to 4-6 in the league, 17-7 in all games.
"I guess we're just lucky against these guys," said Coach Lefty Driesell.
"Look, we just did a super job of coming back at the end.
The Terps didn't lose because for the first time since the last time these teams met, 26 days ago, King was the same player who tore up the ACC a year ago. During one stretch, at the end of the first half and the start of the second, he made eight straight shots.
When Clemson double-teamed or overplayed, King ignored the extra attention and went to the ball. Once he had it, the magic was back: jump shots, spinning drives, banks.
"I started shooting pretty well in the first half so, sure, I wanted to shoot the ball more," King said. "This was the kind of game, we like. When its a running game, usually we're going to win. We'd rather have this than a 50-50 game.
Clemson, which has lost 19 of 22 ACC road games in four seasons (excluding games against hapless Georgia Tech) has a habit of coming out against the Terps as if it intends to win by 50, only to fade, then disappear at the finish.
Last night was no different. With the crowd of 13,879 rooted in its seats the first half, as if waiting to see if the Terps were going to merit support, the Tigers made 17 of their first 23 shots during the first 14 minutes and were leading, 34-23, before Driesell even had a chance to stomp.
But, inevitably, the Tigers cooled and King heated up. He made his last four shots before half and Maryland trailed just 42-38, even though Clemson shot 68 percent the first 20 minutes.
The Terps were almost as hot the second, finishing at 59 percent, but six of their 10 turnovers for the game during the first 10 minutes helped keep Clemson ahead, 61-54, with less than 10 minutes left. Until then, Larry Nance, Tiger leading scorer with 18 points, and Chris Dodds (12 points) were frustrating the Terps with soft jump shots from 20 feet on in.
The Terps had hung close because of King and because of their rebounding. Led by Buck Williams 16, they outrebounded Clemson, 35-25, including 18-6 on offense.
And Clemson's horrid foul shooting, two for seven, finally caught up with them down the stretch.
Trailing, 61-54, the Terps made their move. Williams hit a follow of a King miss and Graham got two free throws to cut the lead to three. Clark Bynum and Graham traded jumpers before a Nance turnover set up a Greg Manning 10-footer, one of only two field goals for the smooth senior all night.
That made it 63-62 with 7:42 remaining and finally the fans came to life.
Nance lost a pass underneath and Graham shot from 20 feet to give the Terps their first lead since 2-0, 64-63 with 6:44 left.
"That's where we lost the game," Clemson Coach Bill Foster said. "If we had boarded better during that stretch, they never could have made any comeback at all."
Charles Pittman made it 66-63 with a layup but Nance and Vince Hamilton scored again, making it 67-66. When Dodds stole a forced King pass and took off the other way with three minutes left, it looked bad for the Terps. But Dutch Morley stole the ball right back from Dodds and King banked a 15-footer. Dodds answered and with 2:40 left it was 69-68, Clemson.
King was golden again with 2:20 to go, making it 70-69 before Hamilton made one of two foul shots, tying the game at 70 with 1:44 left. Driesell ordered his team to spread and Foster, for some reason, allowed the clock to run to 12 seconds without so much as a lunge at the ball.
"I was surprised they let us run it down like that," King said.
More surprising was Clemson's last shot strategy. With two fould to give the Tigers never even tried. "If they got anything that looked close to a man open we were going to foul," Foster said. "But we got just what we wanted, an awful shot and a brick."
As far as Driesell is concerned, it couldn't have worked out better."I just told Albert Monday that if he plays his tail off, he can be the best player in the country. Tonight, he did and he was. When he's right like that everyone on this team is better. We become a much better team."
Welcome back, Albert.
Welcome back, Terps.