This game probably ended at 7:52 Friday morning when Len Bias, Jeff Baxter and John Johnson were put on a plane for home. So give Maryland credit for playing as well as it did before losing to Clemson, 70-60, this afternoon.
The Tigers and the crowd of 8,505 at Littlejohn Coliseum apparently chose to overlook the suspension of the three key Maryland players as they cheered wildly, considering it an upset. But that was undoubtedly not the case with Bias, the all-America forward and leading Atlantic Coast Conference scorer; starting guard Baxter, and reserve freshman guard Johnson, who were watching the game from College Park.
That's where Coach Lefty Driesell had sent them for breaking curfew after the Terrapins' 67-66 victory over North Carolina State Thursday night. Under those circumstances, the Terrapins were probably to be applauded for leading, 24-23, at halftime, and then cutting a 17-point second-half deficit to six with 23 seconds left.
But the Terrapins' makeshift, one-guard lineup eventually turned the ball over a dreadful 21 times, which at one point allowed Clemson (16-10, 3-8) to go on a fateful 24-4 run. Without the scoring power of Bias and experience at second guard in Baxter, Maryland (13-11, 3-7) could not make up the lost ground.
"We just lost our composure," Driesell said. "Then we got halfway back, but that one stretch just killed us."
With the indefinite (but likely two-game) suspensions, Maryland was forced to make its 11th lineup change this season. The Terrapins did not have a player on the floor averaging in double figures, with freshman center Tony Massenburg starting at small forward in place of Bias and true forward Tom (Speedy) Jones at guard in place of Baxter.
Still, Maryland managed to spread its scoring, which is what the Terrapins needed to do. Jones had a game-high 19 points, point guard Gatlin had 12 and forward Derrick Lewis had 10. Freshman Dave Dickerson came off the bench at guard to add nine.
That might have been enough to beat Clemson, which lost to Maryland by nine last Saturday at Cole Field House, because the Tigers shot just 39 percent. But then came the turnovers, which were caused partly by a man-to-man defense that harried Maryland and partly by the Terrapins' inability to handle the ball sufficiently well without two of their top three guards.
"When you've been playing with a couple of guys for 23 games and then you don't have them, its uncomfortable," Gatlin said. "It was more a case of us just losing the ball. Speedy did good, but he's not a true guard. We just went with what we had."
The Terrapins turned over the ball on seven of their first nine possessions of the second half, and the Tigers used that as the impetus for their big run, scoring on six. The stretch began with 17:48 remaining and ended with 10:41 to go; by that time it was 47-30.
"The only reason we won the game today was our defensive play," said Clemson Coach Cliff Ellis. "We've had trouble shooting, and this still concerns us. But that was the best defense we've played all year."
The Tigers had four players in double figures. Guard Michael Best led Clemson with 16 points, adding three steals, followed by Glen McCants with 14. Forwards Horace Grat and Glenn Corbit had 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Best scored 12 of Clemson's points in the crucial run. The Tigers scored 14 straight points at one time. Maryland went scoreless for 5:05, and not even three timeouts helped.
Maryland finally put together five straight points on a layup by Long, a free throw by Jones and a slam by Lewis. That started the Terrapins on an 11-4 run, and Lewis' steal and layup brought the difference to 51-41 with 7:29 left.
The Terrapins put together another brief run with 6:14 remaining, outscoring the Tigers, 10-4, as Gatlin's bank shot with 3:46 left cut it to 60-53. From that point, the game was played out on the foul line.
Clemson didn't help itself by missing four free throws over the next three minutes. That allowed Gatlin to make it 66-60 with his jumper from the lane. But there were just 23 seconds left and Best's two free throws nine seconds later effectively ended it.
"It's hard to look back and think what we could have done if they (Bias, Baxter and Johnson) were here," Lewis said.
(In College Park, Bias was questioned leaving his campus apartment. "I'm not talking," was all he said before getting into a car and slamming the door.)
Maryland will return home to play Maryland-Eastern Shore Monday night at Cole Field House in its last nonconference game. Driesell would not say when he will speak to the suspended players, although he is expected to see them Sunday.