COLLEGE PARK – One week earlier, the frenzied students at Comcast Center had yelled and stomped and flash-mobbed before finally rushing the court to celebrate a victory over Duke that represents the high point of Maryland’s season so far.
But on Saturday, the Terps and their fans — with Clemson in town and no Blue Devils to hate — seemed strangely subdued.
With his team trailing early and the building’s energy at the level of a campus library, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon asked his players to pressure Clemson full-court.
The tactic seemed to wake up the Terps, who dominated inside and got a season-high 18 points from Nick Faust in a 72-59 victory over the Tigers.
The win pulled Maryland (19-8, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) back to .500 in conference play as the Terps try to remain in the NCAA tournament conversation.
Maryland has often been slow to get going in games. That was particularly true Saturday. Even the fans seemed sluggish — owing perhaps to a noon starting time that is early by college-student standards.
“We were flat, the building was flat,” Turgeon said.
Clemson led 10-6 when Turgeon put the press on. Maryland’s Charles Mitchell and Seth Allen raced to trap Clemson guard Rod Hall in the back court.
The Terps didn’t immediately force a turnover. But Mitchell scored on a put-back on Maryland’s next possession, and the Terps seemed to shift to a higher gear.
“The press worked today. It got us the lead. It got us energy,” Turgeon said.
The Terps took the lead, 18-16, on a 3-pointer by Faust, who played his most complete of the season. Maryalnd never trailed after that, although Clemson made a second-half run.
Maryland won despite the early struggles of center Alex Len, the team’s leading scorer. Len had just two first-half points, finishing with nine.
Turgeon was only half joking when he suggested that Len — like the Maryland fans — may have needed the presence of rival Duke to motivate him. Len had scored 19 points a week earlier against Duke senior Mason Plumlee.
Turgeon said Len, who had scored just four points in a loss to Boston College on Tuesday, appeared “heavy-legged.”
“He wasn’t himself, obviously,” the coach said. “He’s got to change his mindset, too. I think he’s just got to pretend he’s playing Plumlee every game.”
The Terps, who make a point of getting to the free-throw line, had one made foul shot in the first half and were 6-for-16 in the game.
Maryland survived with second-half defense and by dominating in the paint. The Terps had 15 offensive rebounds.
Clemson (13-13, 5-9) pulled to within 35-34 on a tip-in Devin Booker before the Terps went on a run.
A dunk by Jake Layman (12 points) off a feed from Dez Wells (seven assists) put Maryland up 39-35. Moments later, a 3-pointer by Layman pushed the lead to 49-40.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said the Terps’ surplus of big men make them tough to contend with.
“That was really my message to the guys: ‘This is a physical game. The Maryland team is big and strong, the post players are grinders and even their guards try to get down and drive you,’ “ Brownell said.
With Len struggling early, Maryland received contributions from its two freshmen big men — Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare.
Mitchell made four of his first five shots, finishing with eight points and seven rebounds. Cleare scored 10 points with six rebounds.
“I feel like the Duke win was an all-time high,” Mitchell said. “And after Boston College, our team was at a low like, ‘What are we doing?’ We can’t have these ups and downs.”
Maryland honored former coach Lefty Driesell at halftime. Driesell and his wife, Joyce, appeared at center court and received a loud ovation from the crowd.