Predictability almost caught up with Maryland yesterday at Cole Field House.
After playing about as well as they could Wednesday in beating North Carolina, the Terrapins had to scramble in the second half to earn a 92-88 victory over Clemson, the worst team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Adrian Branch tied a collegiate high by scoring 29 points and led the Terrapins to their ninth victory in 10 games. But it was Branch's missed layup in the final 74 seconds that led to some anxious moments.
Raymond Jones, who led Clemson with 22 points and 10 rebounds, drove in for a basket that pulled the Tigers (9-17, 1-10) to 86-82 with 1:06 to play. Clemson had a chance to make it even closer when Maryland's Jeff Adkins missed the front-end of a bonus foul shooting set with 47 seconds left.
But Clemson's Chris Michael missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, and Herman Veal, Maryland's Mr. Steady in recent weeks, made two free throws with 31 seconds left. Branch made two more foul shots with 17 seconds to play to clinch the victory for Maryland (16-6, 5-4).
"We're lucky to get out of here with the win," said Adkins, who scored 18 points and made three of four three-point shots. "An upset would have been predictable today. You never want a letdown, but we knew we couldn't get up for this game like we were for North Carolina. We were emotionally drained. We just weren't pumped."
Clemson guard Marc Campbell was doing all the pumping. He made all seven of his three-point shots and convinced Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell that man-to-man defense would be more effective than a zone. Campbell missed all three shots from inside the 19-foot arc. But the three-pointers kept Clemson close every time the Terrapins tried to pull away.
"He was in his rhythm," said Branch, "and there was nothing we could do about it."
Maryland opened a 43-35 lead on a hanging jump shot by Branch. But Campbell made consecutive three-pointers and Clemson cut it to 45-41.
Clemson missed 15 of its first 16 shots, the only basket being a three-pointer by Campbell. Maryland led by 10 points early, but Terrapin lethargy kept the margin from being twice that.
"I was worried about having a little letdown," said Driesell, "since we had that emotional North Carolina game and since we had beaten Clemson by 19 on their home court (in January)."
But Branch, a sophomore guard, was sharp enough this day to help prevent an upset and keep Maryland pushing toward a NCAA berth. He made 10 of 16 shots, including four of seven three-point attempts.
When asked what his team could have done to stop Branch, Clemson Coach Bill Foster answered, unamused, "Hit him over the head with a stick."
Branch had been shooting 15 percent from three-point range, but after an adjustment has made nine of 17 over two games.
"I had told Adrian to get as close to the three-point line as he could when he took that shot," Driesell said. "I think he was looking at the line more than the basket. But this week, I told him, 'Forget about the line and just kick it up there whenever you feel you're in your range.' Now, sometimes, he's a couple of feet behind the line."
Clemson had pulled within 55-54 with 13:20 left, when Branch and Adkins went on a three-point shooting spree.
Adkins made one from the top of the key after taking a hard bounce pass from center Ben Coleman. Clemson freshman forward Anthony Jenkins (19 points) made two free throws, but Adkins came back with another 20-footer for a 63-56 lead. Jones made two free throws, which Branch followed with a 22-footer that put Maryland ahead, 66-58.
The Terrapins made eight of 12 three-point attempts; the Tigers 11 of 17. "Maybe both teams should have just been shooting three-pointers the whole game," Driesell said.
The Tigers have little inside power, especially with Foster deciding to bench veteran forwards Fred Gilliam and Clarke Bynum. So Clemson must shoot from the outside.
Maryland shot more jumpers than usual because Coleman got into early foul trouble and played only two minutes of the first half, when he took no shots and got no rebounds.
"With Ben Coleman playing almost none in the first half, I thought we'd been in deep trouble, and we were," said Driesell.
But Veal got 11 rebounds and got low-post help from 6-foot-9 Mark Fothergill, who scored 13 points and had five rebounds. Len Bias had nine points and six rebounds to make up for Coleman's absence.