CLEMSON, S.C. — Maryland had its recent spate of close losses prolonged Sunday at Littlejohn Coliseum.
With chances to win at the end of regulation, the Terps went into one overtime, then another, before losing to Clemson, 77-73, as their season-long agony continued.
The defeat was the sixth in nine games this season decided by four points or fewer, and the third in a stretch of four games that followed two-point defeats to both Duke and Syracuse.
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Despite taking the lead with the first basket in each overtime, and leading 71-70 on a jumper by sophomore guard Seth Allen with 1:32 left in the second overtime, the Terps couldn’t stop the Tigers down the stretch.
It followed a similar pattern to the games against both the then No. 8 Blue Devils and then No. 4 Orange, except for one fact: the Terps didn’t have a shot to win in the closing seconds.
“Don’t really know where to start on a game like that, there were so many possessions in the game,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after his team’s first overtime game this season and first double-overtime game since 2012.
“I was proud of our effort, I thought the last 18 minutes of the game we really defended, we rebounded, we shared the ball better and executed, at the end we just couldn’t make the play.”
Specifically, junior guard Dez Wells couldn’t deliver at key moments.
Wells carried the Terps for stretches, finishing with 16 points, but missed two shots in the final 15 seconds of regulation and had a drive blocked by Clemson star K.J. McDaniel in the second overtime.
McDaniel led Clemson (18-10, 9-7) with 26 points and 14 rebounds, but it was two other Tigers who factored significantly into the win. Rob Hall scored 16 points — including six in the first overtime — and Damarcus Harrison finished with 10, including the biggest shot of the game.
A 3-point shot from the left corner by Harrison gave Clemson (18-10, 9-7) the lead for good with 1:13 left in the second overtime. Seemingly driving for a layup, Wells was then blocked by McDaniel.
“McDaniel’s block was big-time on Dez,” Turgeon said. “I thought Rod Hall made plays to get it to the first overtime. And Harrison hit the big three in the corner to separated us. It could have gone either way. They made plays in the end and we didn’t.”
The Terps had a chance when junior guard Nick Faust was fouled on a 3-point shot with 18 seconds left and Maryland trailing by four, but Faust (City) missed the first before making the next two free throws. Wells then fouled Hall, who made both free throws.
Asked how difficult it is to lose close games, Allen said after finishing with a team-high 20 points, “It’s frustrating that we can’t ever come out with the W, we still have a lot of season left to play, we still have a lot to play for.”
Maryland (15-14. 7-9) closes out the regular season with home games Tuesday against last-place Virginia Tech and Sunday against No. 10 Virginia, which clinched its first regular season title in more than 30 years Saturday.
Turgeon was hoping to get a win in Maryland’s last expected trip to Littlejohn — short of playing the Tigers on the road in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge — in order to build some momentum going into the ACC tournament.
It appeared as if the Terps had a chance to do that against the Tigers. Maryland built a nine-point lead, 27-18, with 4:38 left in the first half and were still up six, 32-26, on a step-back jumper by Wells a little more than a minute later.
But as has happened so often this season, and throughout Turgeon’s three-year tenure, the Tigers closed the half on a 7-0 run.
Though he has played with the Terps for only this season, junior forward Evan Smotrycz has seen the pattern repeat itself.
“We had chances and we just don’t step on their throat,” said Smotrycz, who came out of a recent five-game shooting slump to finish with 19 points on six of 11 shooting, including four of seven on 3-point shots.
“We’ll get up 10 and let the other team get back in the game at the wrong time and stuff. Before the half, it kind of kills our momentum. Hopefully we’ll get on a roll going into the conference tournament.”
After shooting well for a stretch, including in the close loss at Duke, the Terps have shot poorly the last two games. Maryland went 14 of 40 against Syracuse and was 24 of 79 against Clemson, including 1 of 14 by sophomore forward Jake Layman.
Turgeon is trying to stay positive, but it’s getting more difficult to keep his team’s confidence up when it can’t make plays at key moments. It has haunted the Terps since the season opening loss to Connecticut.
“The kids are resilient, but it’s been tough, no doubt,” Turgeon said. “Today’s loss, double-overtime loss, we didn’t play well enough to get it done. We’ve got to play Tuesday. We got to have a short memory and figure out a way to play well Tuesday night and win.”