Maryland Coach Charles G. Driesell had a lengthy, pointed talk with his guards this week and the result was the Terrapins' most complete game this season.
Jeff Baxter and Keith Gatlin gave all-America forward Len Bias some long-awaited help as Maryland defeated Clemson, 78-69, yesterday at Cole Field House.
It was only the second Atlantic Coast Conference victory for the Terrapins (12-10, 2-6), who never trailed, led by 10 at the half and had four players in double figures.
"That's the way we should have been doing it all along," forward Derrick Lewis said.
Bias was the game's high scorer, as usual, with 24 points and nine rebounds. Baxter had 21 points and five assists, Gatlin 17 points and three assists, and reserve forward Tom (Speedy) Jones had 11 points on four-for-five shooting and nine rebounds.
The Terrapins led by 14 points in the first half on their way to the badly needed conference win. Clemson (14-9, 2-7) cut it to two midway through the second period, but for once the Terrapins did not lose their poise as Gatlin and Baxter hit their shots from the outside to give Bias breathing room inside.
"I told all of them that if they get their shot they have to take it," Driesell said. "You can't just stand out there and be a fixture. To be a contender we've got to have four or five guys in double figures."
Maryland left lack of poise to the Tigers, who made just five of 11 free throws in the second half and never could tie it up despite coming within two midway through the period.
Forward Horace Grant had 23 points in what was an intriguing duel with Bias, but he had little help from the rest of the Tigers. Forward Glenn Corbit scored 12 points and center Glen McCants had 11.
"They really got fine play from their starting guards and that was the key," Clemson Coach Cliff Ellis said. "Gatlin and Baxter hit their outside shots in the clutch.
"We had some great execution in the second half, but we just could not sustain it as long as Maryland did."
The reemergence of Baxter and Gatlin was a great relief to the Terrapins, who had been struggling against defenses that concentrated on Bias.
Before this game, Maryland had lost eight of its last 10, including important games at Villanova (64-62) and Notre Dame (69-62).
The lack of activity by Baxter and Gatlin had been most obvious on that trip. Against Villanova, Gatlin was four for nine from the floor, and against Notre Dame he was two for five. Baxter did not take a shot against Villanova and made the only one he tried against Notre Dame.
"Coach had said more than a few things about taking our shots when we had them," said Baxter, who was seven for 11 from the floor. "I was taking shots that weren't even mine. I just kept connecting."
Baxter and Gatlin almost singlehandedly staked Maryland to its 32-22 halftime lead. Baxter had 11 points, and Gatlin had eight in the period. Bias was held to seven.
"I score, and Jeff scores and Len gets his 20 anyway, and it makes it a lot easier," Gatlin said.
"It just opens things up, period," Bias said.
Maryland's only weak moments came shortly into the second half. Trailing, 38-26, Clemson outscored the Terrapins by 9-1 -- including two jams by Grant -- to cut the 12-point lead to four, 39-35, with 15:55 left.
The Tigers then failed to convert free throws. With a chance to cut it to two with 13:48 remaining, Grant missed one of two free throws, making it 43-40, and Bias immediately extended it to five.
With 13:06 left, Corbit had two free throws on a foul by Jones. He missed both, and it remained 45-40.
Corbit had another opportunity, making a fast-break layup off a scuffle for a loose ball and drawing a foul from Baxter. But he missed the free throw, and it was 45-42 with 12:32 to go.
Maryland replied with a three-point play from Jones and it was a six-point game again.
The Tigers finally cut it to two, Anthony Jenkins' eight-foot jumper from the lane making it 50-48 with 10:19 to go.
But Clemson once again couldn't take advantage. Bias converted a one-and-one and Michael Best missed the second of two free throws for Clemson. Baxter's two free throws with 8:48 remaining opened it up to five again, 54-49.
After Clemson cut it to three, Maryland scored five straight points, ending with Baxter's jumper from the corner, and it was 59-51 with 6:28 to go.
Clemson closed to four once more. But with 2:53 left Bias made a twisting eight-foot bank shot and got the foul from Corbit in the process. He made the free throw and the Tigers did not come closer than five again.
Maryland now hits the road for two conference games, with North Carolina State in Raleigh Thursday and at Clemson for a rematch Saturday.