CLEMSON, S.C. -- When Maryland's Walt Williams first went out with a broken leg three weeks ago, the immediate and natural thought was "Who will score now?"
After all, the Terrapins were having enough trouble getting points with their leading scorer in the lineup. So his prolonged absence could only portend hard times.
Then the Terps won four of their next five games, in large measure because they played excellent team defense.
But even the best defensive teams have to put the ball in the basket. Last night at Clemson, the Terps stumbled and fumbled on offense for the second consecutive game.
After shooting 21 percent from the floor in Friday's loss at Georgia Tech, Maryland didn't do much better against Clemson, hitting 37 percent.
As a result, Maryland (12-9, 2-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) gave the Tigers their first win in the ACC, dropping a 73-69 decision.
"We're the type of team that has to run a perfect offense to succeed," said Maryland coach Gary Williams.
Any offense that produces just two baskets from the floor over 22 possessions at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half is less than perfect.
The culprits were obvious. The Maryland starting backcourt of senior Matt Roe and sophomore Kevin McLinton combined for 17 points, on a combined 6-for-28 shooting.
Those figures are misleading, for Roe had all 17 points, but had only five in the second half, when he shot two of nine.
"When you're a shooter, you just have to shoot," said Roe, who is hitting 42 percent for the year. "I feel lousy about this loss. I feel responsible because I'm a shooter and I didn't shoot it well."
McLinton, who is shooting 41 percent this season, was also apologetic.
"I played an absolutely terrible game," said McLinton. "My teammates depend on me and I let them down. This is a tough one to swallow."
Besides their poor shooting, the Terps also can point to the dominance of Clemson center Dale Davis as a major factor in the loss.
In their 85-71 victory over Clemson last month at Cole Field House, the Terps held Davis to nine points. Last night he avenged that with 19 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks, making one free throw with nine seconds left to ice the victory.
"I really don't forget anything," Davis said. "That game really started off the tough stretch for us. This was as good a time as any to come back."
By contrast, Maryland center Cedric Lewis, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds over Davis in January, picked up two fouls in the first 41 seconds of the second half and watched most of the rest of the game from the bench.
Lewis' four blocks last night set a school single-season mark of 116, besting his brother Derrick's mark of 114, set in 1986-87. But he fouled out with 3:40 left and watched Davis control the inside.
"He played a great game tonight," said Lewis, who finished with four points and six rebounds. "He did what he was supposed to do."
But Maryland didn't. The Terps lost control of a game that they should have locked up.
Maryland led by as many as 11 in the first half, and by six at the half, thanks to a trap that forced Clemson (10-11, 1-7) to go scoreless on 11 consecutive possessions.
Even with 7:03 left, Maryland led by 55-49 after Lewis hit two foul shots.
But the Terps scored just two points over the next 5:30, and Clemson seniors Davis, David Young and Sean Tyson, a Dunbar High graduate, led the Tigers back. They took a 65-60 lead with 1:23 left.
With 43 seconds left, Clemson led 70-62, and it appeared that the Terps had frittered away their best shot at an ACC road win.
But Clemson coach Cliff Ellis knew better.
"At the 43-second mark, we thought we might have had it made," said Ellis. "I had to tell them that this game was far from over."
He was right. Garfield Smith, who had 23 points and nine rebounds, scored on a goaltending call with 35 seconds left, and after Tyson, who had 13 points off the bench, missed two foul shots, sophomore Evers Burns hit a basket to pull Maryland to within four points.
After a Maryland timeout, Smith stole the inbounds pass from Eric Burks, made the basket and was fouled by Burks. Smith made the foul shot and suddenly the Terps had made up seven points in 22 seconds to trail by just one.
"We didn't panic. We knew we could still win. All we needed was one shot," said Vince Broadnax, who played fine defense and scored 21 points, including 9-for-9 from the line.
Young made two foul shots to put Clemson back up by three, but McLinton missed a tough drive with 15 seconds left.
The ball went out of bounds on the play to Maryland, but freshman walk-on Mike Thibeault missed a three-point shot that might have forced overtime. Thibeault was inconsolable after the game.