COLLEGE PARK - For a while last night, it seemed as if the shots would never stop falling for the Clemson Tigers. For a while last night, it seemed as if the Maryland Terrapins would miss too many free throws and lose too many rebounds to avoid losing their first home game of the season.
But the No. 3 Maryland men's basketball team, perhaps overcoming a hangover effect from Thursday night's loss at top-ranked Duke, awakened in time to assert itself over the final five minutes and put away upset-minded Clemson, 99-90, before a sold-out Cole Field House.
The crowd got quite an entertaining two hours for its money.
It witnessed Clemson's incredible shooting display in the first half, when the Tigers traded leads with the Terps by converting 11 three-point baskets to set a school record for most threes made in a half. It saw 10 different players score in double figures, including five from each team. It saw Maryland protect the ball as well as it has all season, while making the game's biggest shots.
And after Maryland had pulled away from the Tigers with a game-ending 17-7 run led by guards Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas, coach Gary Williams finally could relax.
Maryland (14-3, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) took over sole possession of second place in the ACC, increased its home record to 9-0 in its final season at Cole and righted itself in time to begin preparation for another ACC heavyweight match. The Terps will pay a visit to No. 14 Wake Forest on Wednesday.
Clemson (11-8, 2-4) lost its seventh consecutive game to Maryland, but give the Tigers credit for serving the Terps with a splash of cold water, courtesy of some torrid shooting. Guards Tony Stockman and Edward Scott, who led Clemson with 22 and 20 points, respectively, took advantage of Maryland's lax perimeter defense by combining for 11 three-pointers.
As a team, the Tigers made 15 of 28 from beyond the arc, and held an 83-82 lead with 4:41 left.
"It's all about winning. It doesn't matter how you get it," said senior Maryland guard Juan Dixon, who led the team with 23 points and set a school record for career three-pointers (189). He made the three-pointer that put Maryland in front to stay at 85-83.
"We came out pressing [on defense] and those guys got some open looks and made shots. They got some confidence, but we never stopped playing hard."
The Terps overcame an off shooting night by senior center Lonny Baxter, who missed seven of 12 free throws and a handful of close-range shots but still finished with 21 points.
In addition to Dixon, the Terps got a great night from sophomore forward Chris Wilcox, who used a career-high 28 minutes to counter Clemson almost single-handedly on the glass, finishing with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Junior backup guard Nicholas (14 points, six assists) took care of the rest by scoring all eight of his second-half points in the final three minutes.
"That game could have been lost very easily. That game was up there for the taking. I liked our heart down the stretch," said Williams, who watched Maryland surrender a 66-55 lead before kicking into a winning gear. "This is kind of exciting, to outscore the NBA when we play. If we can ever combine the way we play offense with good defense, we can be a very good team.
"I respected Clemson for [beating] Virginia, and I knew this would be tough after the Duke emotion," he added. "I'm totally concerned about our rebounding. Clemson was physical on the glass. We did some things tonight that weren't good defensively. We weren't aggressive early. But we did some good things down the stretch."
Maryland made nine of its last 11 free throws. Led by point guard Steve Blake (13 assists, two turnovers), the Terps took excellent care of the ball by committing a season-low six turnovers and exploited Clemson's 2-3 zone patiently with good penetration and ball movement on the perimeter. They also defended the wing much better in the second half by forcing a tiring Clemson team into 4-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Terps got their final burst of breathing room when Nicholas scored seven straight Maryland points - a three-pointer, two free throws and a short jumper - to give the Terps a 93-86 lead with 1:49 left. Dixon later followed 39 seconds later by converting a three-point play to give Maryland a 96-88 advantage.
The Tigers served early notice that their shooters were working with hot hands, as Clemson began by making five of its first three-point attempts to get Maryland's attention. The Tigers also aroused Maryland by playing rough on the inside. With 13:32 left in the first half, the teams nearly came to blows when Clemson forward Chris Hobbs (12 points, nine rebounds) tossed Maryland forward Tahj Holden to the floor and drew and intentional foul.
"I knew it was going to be a physical game, but we just couldn't back down from them," Wilcox said.
"When you collect talent and experience, you get yourself a whale of a ball club, which they certainly have," Clemson coach Larry Shyatt said of the Terps. "We chose to try to increase their three-point shot attempts and decrease their inside feeds [with the zone defense]. They have so many weapons."
NOTE: Blake moved into second place in school history with 597 career assists. He trails Keith Gatlin by 52.
Clemson Min FG FT Reb A F Pt
McKnight 31 6-11 4-7 6 4 5 19
Hobbs 30 4-9 4-7 9 1 4 12
R Henderson 29 4-8 3-4 13 0 3 11
Stockman 37 8-16 0-0 4 2 2 22
Scott 40 7-17 1-2 7 8 1 20
Nagys 10 1-1 0-0 2 1 5 3
Ford 9 0-3 1-3 3 0 4 1
Babalola 3 0-1 0-0 2 0 0 0
Christie 3 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 0
Clifton 8 1-2 0-0 1 0 3 2
Totals 200 31-69 13-23 48 16 27 90
Percentages: FG-.449, FT-.565. 3-point goals: 15-28, .536 (Mcknight 3-4, Stockman 6-13, Scott 5-8, Nagys 1-1, Babalola 0-1, Christie 0-1). Team rebounds: 2. Blocked shots: 6 (R Henderson 3, Mcknight, Ford, Babalola). Turnovers: 16 (Scott5, R Henderson 4, Hobbs 2, Nagys 2, Stockman 2, Mcknight). Steals: 1 (Hobbs).
Maryland Min FG FT Reb A F Pt
Mouton 28 4-8 2-2 4 3 3 14
Wilcox 28 7-15 3-5 14 1 1 17
Baxter 32 8-17 5-12 5 2 4 21
Dixon 37 8-18 3-3 2 2 1 23
Blake 32 1-5 0-0 4 13 3 3
Collins 2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Nicholas 21 4-7 4-5 4 6 2 14
Randle 7 1-1 1-3 3 0 1 3
Holden 13 0-1 4-6 0 0 3 4
Totals 200 33-72 22-36 36 27 18 99
Percentages: FG-.458, FT-.611. 3-point goals: 11-26, .423 (Mouton 4-6, Dixon 4-10, Blake 1-5, Nicholas 2-5). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 8(Baxter 3, Holden 2, Wilcox, Nicholas, Randle).Turnovers: 6 (Blake 2, Baxter, Collins, Dixon, Holden). Steals: 8 (Baxter 3, Dixon 3, Blake, Wilcox).
Clemson 48 42 - 90
Maryland 52 47 - 99
A: 14,500. Officials: Carl Hess, Jim Burr, Allen Spainhour