CLEMSON, S.C. — CLEMSON, S.C. - For about 22 minutes last night, the Maryland Terrapins were flirting with a catastrophe. Their offense was in shambles, their defense was buckling, and the worst basketball team in the Atlantic Coast Conference was licking its chops at the prospect of knocking off a longtime nemesis.
But, just like that, the Terps reached back, found their heart, their defensive hustle, their shooting touch and renewed spark from their bench. And just like that, the Clemson Tigers went back to being the Clemson Tigers, who fell apart in the face of a lopsided, second-half surge by Maryland.
Maryland's come-from-behind 65-52 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum, before an announced crowd of 8,000 that maybe was one-third of that number as an ice storm raged outside, had serious gut check written all over it.
Had the Terps lost this game, they would have tumbled to the bottom of the ACC standings while swallowing their first three-game losing streak in nearly three years. They would have been 1-4 in conference play for the first time since 1993 - the last time Maryland failed to make the NCAA tournament - with a tough trip to No. 10 Wake Forest coming on Thursday.
Instead, the Terps (11-5, 2-3 ACC) are breathing easier today, as they try to make their way back to College Park after being grounded by last night's inclement weather. Instead, Maryland was sighing with relief after finding its groove against an opponent it has owned in recent years.
"It's crunch time, backs to the wall, nothing to lose," said sophomore point guard John Gilchrist, who scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half and sparked a devastating 25-3 Maryland run in the middle of the second half by banking in a long three-point shot from the top of the key.
"We perform well under those situations. With our backs to the wall, we play our best basketball. This was a huge game. We needed this, more so for our confidence. This is a must win."
Maryland beat Clemson (8-9, 1-5) for the 12th consecutive time and the sixth straight time at Littlejohn, because the Terps created a storm of their own in the second half, after giving up a four-point lead late in the first half and trailing at the break, 31-27.
And with 18:25 left in the contest, it didn't look good for the Terps, after Clemson guard Shawan Robinson (team-high 15 points) hit a three-pointer to give the Tigers a 38-31 lead. But Maryland wasn't about to fall any deeper. First, Gilchrist and sophomore Nik Caner-Medley (13 points) combined on a 7-0 spurt that tied the score at 38.
Then, after the Tigers retook the lead at 43-38, Maryland threw its weight around and the Tigers had no chance. Over a stretch spanning nearly 11 minutes, the Terps scored 25 of the game's next 28 points to take a commanding 63-46 lead with 2:52 left.
Everyone got into the act. Sophomore guard Chris McCray, who has struggled lately, followed Gilchrist's three with three straight baskets, including a three-pointer, to make it 48-43. McCray finished with 11 points.
The Maryland bench took things from there, starting with sophomore forward Travis Garrison, who scored 11 points overall and seven straight to make it 57-46 with 5:31 to go. Even freshman center Hassan Fofana, who has barely been used this year, scored four points and grabbed two rebounds, and countered Clemson's big men with his 280-pound frame in a rugged, season-high 15 minutes.
"We had to raise our energy level up to play at [Clemson's] level, which is what we did in the second half," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We eventually grinded it out. We know how hard it is to win on the road in the ACC, and how hard we have to work. I was proud of our players for what we did in the second half."
For a while, it was a battle of turnovers, a game that reflected two teams ranked at the bottom of the league standings in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. But Maryland regained its poise in every way. In the second half, the Terps out-rebounded Clemson 24-16 and held the Tigers to 30.8 percent shooting. They even shot a season-high 77.8 percent at the free-throw line.
The teams literally traded baskets for the game's first 14 minutes, setting the tone in a sloppy and competitive first half that featured 14 lead changes, five ties and a combined 22 turnovers.
Seventeen of the 18 players who took the floor in the first half scored, and it wasn't until Caner-Medley made a layup to give the Terps a 25-23 lead with 5:14 left in the half that either team scored two unanswered baskets. Caner-Medley was in the middle of a 6-0 Maryland run that put the Terps in front 27-23 with 4:38 left in the half.
At that point, Maryland had gotten lifts from freshman guard Mike Jones and Fofana, had forced 11 Clemson turnovers and had made 11 of 22 shots.
But the Terps could not sustain their momentum. Maryland missed its last four shots of the half, committed three turnovers - two by center Jamar Smith (six points, 10 rebounds) - got beat down the floor and surrendered its lead. Clemson finished with an 8-0 spurt to take a 31-27 halftime lead.
"I didn't want to be the one who wasn't playing hard," McCray said. "This was definitely a big game for us. We were all fighters out there tonight."
Next for Terps
Matchup: Maryland (11-5, 2-3 ACC) vs. No. 10 Wake Forest (11-4, 2-3)
Site: Lawrence Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)