CLEMSON, S.C. - After playing a near-perfect game while taking Duke apart on Sunday, the Maryland Terrapins needed some time to get warm last night.
And once the No. 2 Terps found their stride after a sluggish, uneven first half at Clemson, it was lights out once again for one of the Atlantic Coast Conference doormats, and just another night of solid basketball for the league leader.
Maryland wasted little time erasing a four-point halftime deficit, got a huge lift from their bench and senior guard Juan Dixon, and increased their first-place lead in the ACC to a full game with an 84-68 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Terps (22-3, 12-1 ACC) won their ninth straight game, their 13th in their past 14, and are now one victory from the best start in school history.
"I think we were sluggish early. There's no excuse for that. We just were," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "I told them at halftime if we just jack it up 10 percent in every area, we'll be OK. You play at home against Duke, you don't have to worry about being up. It's not Clemson. It's whoever you play after a game like that.
"We haven't seen a lot of zone. We started shooting after making one pass. We try to get teams to do that against us. We started shooting quick threes, and we paid for it."
Dixon led the Terps with 21 points, and became the first player in NCAA history to produce 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 three-point field goals.
"[Dixon] has been that way for four years. He's always played the same way," Williams said. "He's taught me a lot about having patience. He does some things sometimes that just drive me nuts. But at the same time, you want him on your team, because he knows how to win."
Clemson (12-15, 3-11), which flustered Maryland early with its zone defense but could not sustain any offense, lost for the 10th time in 11 games. The Tigers also were not helped by a knee injury that knocked point guard Ed Scott out of action midway through the second half.
It didn't take long for the Terps to snap out of their funk, opening the second half with an 18-8 run and making seven of their first nine shots to take a 49-43 lead with 14:40 left in the game. Chris Wilcox and Dixon scored four points apiece during the spurt.
The Terps kept up the pressure by forcing a spate of turnovers, working the ball inside to Lonny Baxter - he shot 0-for-3 in the first half - and getting outstanding three-point shooting after struggling from beyond the arc.
Drew Nicholas got Maryland going on an 11-0 run by hitting a 22-footer from the top of the key, giving the Terps a 55-49 lead with 11:48 left. Dixon, who was impressive in the second half, followed with a 22-footer from the left corner. Dixon then hit another three from the right corner, making it 61-49 with 10:17 left.
Clemson coach Larry Shyatt called a timeout. At that point, the Terps had made 12 of 14 second-half shots, including 5-for-6 from three-point range. Baxter completed the run with an alley-oop jam, courtesy of Dixon, and with 9:48 left, the Tigers were behind 63-49 and effectively done.
"It's a long season, and we've got to find the energy from somewhere," Dixon said. "We came here to get the win, no matter how we did it. We started getting the ball inside, and working it back out. That's our system. We put it together and won by 16."
The Tigers in no way resembled the hot-shooting team that blitzed Maryland in College Park last month by making 11 three-pointers in the first half, but that did not prevent Clemson from hanging tough with Maryland early, then getting the Terps' attention by taking a 35-31 halftime lead.
It didn't help that Maryland attacked Clemson's zone defense timidly by settling for quick three-point shots that did not fall, while missing despite getting some great shots out of their half-court offense.
For the half, the Terps shot just 31.4 percent overall and made only two of 11 three-point shots (18.2 percent). They stayed close by converting seven of 10 free throws.
The Terps were generally flat early. In one sequence, Wilcox blocked a jam by Jamar McKnight, then missed a jam at the other end, before taking an ill-advised baseline jumper that sent him to the bench. Maryland's guards also could not get untracked, with Dixon and Nicholas missing a handful of wide-open shots.
Still, the Terps got enough shooting and enough hustle to take a 17-11 lead with 11:40 left in the half. In that opening span, five different players scored. Dixon made a three from the left corner to give Maryland a 12-7 advantage, which Ray Henderson cut to 12-9 on a put-back. Henderson then answered a three-pointer by Nicholas with a jam to trim the Terps' lead to 15-11 with 11:50 to go.
After Byron Mouton put the Terps in front 17-11 on a 15-foot baseline jumper, Maryland went into a major shooting funk, and the Tigers came alive by staging a 16-5 run that turned the game's momentum.
McKnight got it going by making an 18-footer. Scott followed by making two free throws, and after Wilcox made a foul shot to keep Clemson at bay 18-15, the Tigers took a 20-18 lead on a tip-in by Henderson and a three-pointer from the right wing by Tony Stockman with 8:20 left.
Henderson added a free throw, Dixon countered with two free throws, then Clemson scored six unanswered points on a 17-footer by McKnight, a tip-in by Sharrod Ford and a 12-foot bank shot by Scott, giving the Tigers a 27-20 lead with 5:36 left.
Maryland got a boost off the bench from Ryan Randle, who made a free throw and turned a nice feed from Steve Blake into a layup to trim Clemson's lead to 31-25 with 3:46 left, but Maryland turned the ball over and allowed McKnight and Scott to hit open shots, which increased the Tigers' lead.
The bench pushed Maryland back at Clemson once again, as Randle and Nicholas converted three straight fast-break baskets to cut Clemson's lead to 33-31, but McKnight's offensive rebound and six-foot follow-up put the Tigers up by four at the break.
Maryland Min FG FT Reb A F Pt
Mouton 30 6-12 0-0 6 1 1 13
Wilcox 22 6-9 2-4 4 1 4 14
Baxter 34 3-10 4-8 12 0 1 10
Dixon 38 7-15 4-4 7 6 3 21
Blake 31 1-6 4-4 4 9 3 7
Collins 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Nicholas 20 4-9 2-2 2 2 0 12
Grinnon 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Randle 11 2-3 1-2 5 1 1 5
Holden 12 1-1 0-0 2 2 2 2
Totals 200 30-65 17-24 42 22 15 84
Percentages: FG-.462, FT-.708. 3-point goals:7-18, .389 (Mouton 1-2, Dixon 3-8, Blake 1-3,Nicholas 2-5). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 7(Wilcox 3, Baxter 3, Blake). Turnovers: 9 (Blake5, Baxter 2, Dixon, Wilcox). Steals: 7 (Randle 2,Baxter, Blake, Grinnon, Nicholas, Wilcox).
Clemson Min FG FT Reb A F Pt
Mcknight 27 5-10 0-0 3 1 0 10
Hobbs 22 4-10 1-2 3 0 5 9
R Henderson 27 4-10 1-2 11 2 4 9
Stockman 31 7-17 0-0 2 2 1 19
Scott 36 3-7 5-7 8 5 1 11
Nagys 13 0-4 0-2 4 1 2 0
Ford 18 3-5 0-0 5 0 4 6
Babalola 5 0-2 0-0 0 2 1 0
Christie 17 1-6 2-2 3 1 0 4
Clifton 4 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 0
Totals 200 27-72 9-15 40 14 18 68
Percentages: FG-.375, FT-.600. 3-point goals:5-17, .294 (Mcknight 0-3, Stockman 5-8, Scott0-2, Babalola 0-2, Christie 0-2). Team rebounds:2. Blocked shots: 1 (Nagys). Turnovers: 10 (Scott4, Stockman 2, Christie, Ford, Mcknight, Nagys).Steals: 7 (Mcknight 2, Scott 2, Stockman 2, Ford).
Maryland 31 53 - 84
Clemson 35 33 - 68
Technical fouls: None. A: 8,500. Officials: DukeEdsall, Ted Valentine, Bryan Kersey.