CLEMSON, S.C. - The Maryland Terrapins climbed to this lofty perch by being hungry, and hungry they have promised to stay.
Three days after unseating formerly top-ranked Duke, three days after raising the spirits of an entire campus and putting a memorable exclamation point on Cole Field House as they prepare to move to a new arena, the No. 2 Terps have vowed not to get caught up in any Blue Devils hangover.
The way Maryland sees it, not even a late-night date on the road with the struggling Clemson Tigers can break its concentration.
The Terps (21-3, 11-1), who are atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and have won eight straight games, say they are too determined to earn the school's first outright ACC title under 13-year coach Gary Williams, too determined to roll into March with sustained momentum, to overlook anyone.
"We're a veteran team. We've been through this plenty of times," senior center Lonny Baxter said. "The most important game is the next game coming up. That has to be our focus."
Senior forward Byron Mouton added: "Everybody has been coming up to us thanking us for winning that [Duke] game. Now everybody is saying, can we keep it up against Clemson?
"Clemson ain't got nothing to lose. That's where our maturity comes in. So many teams are capable of beating the first- or second-place team in this league. We don't want to take anybody for granted."
If there ever was a potentially perilous road trip, this is it. For all of their troubles - and Clemson (12-14, 3-10) is full of problems, having lost nine of its last 10 games - the wildly inconsistent Tigers have a way of scaring and occasionally beating the big boys at home. And these guys can shoot the basketball with streaky excellence.
Take Clemson's most recent victory, a wild 118-115 double-overtime win last Wednesday against visiting Wake Forest, for example. And with five minutes left in a 98-88 loss to Duke at Littlejohn Coliseum on Feb. 2, it was anybody's game. Then there was the heartbreaking 80-79 loss on Jan. 15 to North Carolina State on a buzzer-beating tip-in by Wolfpack forward Josh Powell.
Then again, when the Tigers are bad, they can be brutal. They have lost at No. 20 Wake Forest by 41 points, at home to North Carolina by 22, and at home to Georgia Tech by 24. Then there was that clunker against visiting Yale on Jan. 2.
The Terps would prefer to dwell on the 99-90 victory at Cole Field House last month, when the Tigers came out hot by making 11 three-pointers in the first half. It brought back memories of last year's NBA-like shootout at Littlejohn, which resulted in a 102-94 Maryland victory.
"We feel pretty good, but at the same time, Clemson has played pretty well there," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who rejoined the team yesterday in College Park after attending his father's funeral in New Jersey earlier. "They have three guys [guards Edward Scott and Tony Stockman and forward Jamar McKnight] who can really shoot the ball. We have to play better defense."
Scott, who leads the conference with an average of 8.1 assists, has quietly developed into one of the nation's better point guards. He has combined with Stockman and McKnight to make 127 three-pointers this season.
The Tigers' best shot tonight would appear to be getting hot early and creating another high-scoring affair on a night when Maryland's shots aren't falling.
Three days after holding Duke to a season-low 73 points and forcing the Blue Devils into 7-for-33 shooting from three-point range, the Terps are not in the mood for an unpleasant surprise.
"The players realize the importance of each game, and they have played like that this year," Williams said. "We didn't win anything by beating Duke. That didn't give us a lock on anything. We've been a pretty hungry team this year. I just want to stay hungry."
NOTES: Maryland senior guard Juan Dixon needs eight points to become the first player in NCAA history with 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 three-point field goals. ... Dixon and Baxter will have their numbers retired before Sunday's game against visiting Wake Forest. ... Point guard Steve Blake is averaging 8.1 assists and only 2.8 turnovers against the ACC.
Site: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.
TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 12 1/2