When a team shoots just 40 percent from the field, misses nine free throws, makes just five baskets in the final 14 minutes -- and still wins by 16 points -- something must be working in its favor.
That was the case with Maryland yesterday at Cole Field House. Triggered by an aggressive defense that limited Dale Davis to nine points, the Terrapins led almost from start to finish in an 81-65 Atlantic Coast Conference win over defending champion Clemson.
Walt Williams led the game with 29 points, including five three-point goals. When Clemson began using a box-and-one defense to stop the Maryland point guard, swingman Matt Roe hit a pair of three-pointers en route to a 12-point day.
Center Cedric Lewis had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Maryland, but more impressive were his six blocked shots and his effort on Davis. Clemson's 6-foot-11 all-ACC forward entered averaging 20 points per game but had just one at halftime and didn't make his first basket until 13:45 remained.
"If we continue to be consistent defensively, we'll be okay," said Maryland Coach Gary Williams. "We can play with these teams; a lot was said before the season about how competitive we'd be in the ACC -- sometimes that acts as motivation for our guys."
Overwhelmingly picked to finish last in the league, some observers wondered if the Terrapins would even win a conference game. Actually, Maryland (7-4, 1-1) could be undefeated in the conference but shot 26 percent in the second half and lost a tough, 74-62 game to Wake Forest last week.
Although there were similar droughts yesterday, most notably a second-half span of four minutes without a field goal, the Terrapins were in control. A jumper by Colby Brown (team-high 13 points) gave Clemson a 13-12 lead eight minutes into the game, but Lewis made two free throws with 10:53 left in the half to give Maryland a lead it never relinquished.
A 10-4 spurt in the final five minutes gave Maryland a 39-29 halftime lead. The Tigers (8-4, 0-2) whittled the margin to 46-42 before a basket by Evers Burns with 14:07 remaining. Davis responded with his first basket and the Terrapins didn't get another until a drive by Roe four minutes later. In the meantime, Maryland increased its lead to 56-46 on free throws.
Davis accounted for Clemson's other basket, a short jumper with 12:19 left, but he didn't score again until just more than three minutes remained. His frustrating afternoon was underscored when he picked up three personal fouls in less than a minute.
With the game out of reach in the waning minutes, Burns, who nearly came to blows with Davis early in the game, offered his hand to the Clemson player. Grudgingly, Davis accepted it, a short smile crossing his face; seconds after that, Burns made a more emphatic gesture, a flying, fast-break slam dunk that Davis was helpless to stop.
"Lewis did a great job on me and their other guys did a great job of helping him," Davis said. "If I tried to fake on Lewis, they always had someone else right there to pick me up."
One wonders how much help Lewis actually needed. In a season that has been a constant revelation, one in which he has already set career highs in 12 different categories and ranks third in the nation in blocked shots with five a game, yesterday the senior had perhaps his finest afternoon.
"Going against a great player like Davis was definitely an incentive for me," said Lewis. "A lot of people didn't expect much from me, I only averaged eight minutes a game last year. I want to prove everyone wrong but I also want to do it for myself too."