Struggling Clemson smoothed out some of its season-long rough spots tonight, thanks in large part to a lackluster effort by Maryland that all but eliminated Coach Lefty Driesell's longshot hopes for a bid to the NCAA postseason tournament.
Without center Charlie Pittman, Maryland couldn't stop Clemson's rebounding or the inside play of center Horace Wyatt. The result was a 75-66 loss that was secured by some fine Clemson foul shooting over the final four minutes.
"We didn't play with any poise," lamented Driesell, who bravely had forecast a possible NCAA bid for his team if it could win its final two road games against Clemson and Wake Forest Saturday.
"The way we played tonight, we'll be lucky to win any more games," said Driesell, whose team is 14-9 overall and 4-7 in the league, one-half game ahead of Clemson (13-10, 4-8). "I don't know if it was inexperience, or poor coaching, or what, but we never really got into the game."
It wasn't quite that bad for Maryland. After falling behind, 34-22, in the first half because of their rebounding inadequacies, the Terrapins pulled to within three in the second. Clemson was playing tentatively, ready to fall apart just as the Tigers have so many other times this year.
But instead of continuing their surge, the Terrapins stumbled badly. With Clemson up, 55-51, Jeff Adkins was called for charging, then Mark Fothergill lost the ball inside and immediately fouled Wyatt. Adrian Branch forced two off-balance shots and Clemson soon had a 62-53 lead, forcing Maryland to foul, and foul some more.
Clemson neutralized that strategy by making 15 of its last 19 free throws. The Tigers didn't score a field goal in the final 4:40, but they didn't have to. Almost as soon as they touched the ball, they were fouled, especially Wyatt, a 61 percent shooter from the free throw line who made five of his last seven attempts.
Wyatt ended with 19 points, in part because he was able to beat Maryland's big men--Taylor Baldwin and Fothergill--down the court for easy fast-break baskets. Pittman, who is quicker than either teammate and a better rebounder, is out with a fractured foot.
"Don't use Pittman as an excuse," Driesell pleaded, but the void created by his absence was obvious. In the first half, when Maryland wanted to control the tempo but never had a chance, the Terrapins were outrebounded, 19-12. Fothergill and Baldwin combined for only three rebounds in that span.
Clemson used spurts early and late in the opening half to take control of the game. The Tigers made six straight shots, including four by Wyatt, to take a 16-6 margin with 12:34 left. At that point, Maryland had one offensive rebound and Branch, who finished with 21 points, was scoreless.
Without Pittman, Maryland's task doesn't get much easier. After Wake Forest, Maryland plays in Cole Field House against North Carolina State and Virginia, both with towering front lines..
"We just have to scratch and scramble, but that is what we've been doing all season," said Dutch Morley, who tied the Maryland assist record tonight with 12. "We wanted to get ahead in this one and use our double-post offense and control the tempo. That's how we play best. But we never had a chance to do that once we got behind. We wound up playing their game too much."