COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- The scenario is similar - Clemson is again in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and Maryland is once more unpredictable and on the borderline of making the NCAA tournament.
The teams, though, are quite different from a year ago when Clemson was able to beat the Terps an unprecedented three times.
Gone is 6-foot-9 Clemson forward Sharrod Ford, who was the Tigers' go-to player against the Terps. And gone are Maryland's top two scoring guards in Chris McCray and John Gilchrist.
Despite the Tigers' recent success against Maryland (15-8, 5-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), tonight's 8 o'clock game at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C., is one of the Terps' best chances at picking up a conference road win of the four trips remaining. Clemson (14-10, 3-8) has the worst scoring offense in the ACC and likely will be missing its injured leading scorer, and Maryland is coming off a strong performance in a losing effort Saturday against No. 2-ranked Duke.
"Maryland is a team that certainly has played some excellent basketball this year," said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell, who was an assistant coach at Maryland under Lefty Driesell and Bob Wade from 1985 to 1988. "They'll come in here very motivated because they're in the same kind of boat we're in - needing a win in the worst way, having lost four out of their last five."
Maryland coach Gary Williams, who had his players return to Comcast Center on Sunday for practice, said teams "better go .500 or better" in the conference this year to have a shot at the NCAA tournament, and that is more of a motivating factor than avenging last year's losses.
"Last year hurt," Williams said. "Those three games, when you add them up at the end of the year, they certainly had an impact on our season. But in terms of this year ... this is now. It's a big game for us. If we can get another road win in the ACC it would be a big win for us."
Clemson is in a three-way tie behind Maryland in the conference standings, as the Terps are in a tie with Florida State for seventh place. It's not unreasonable for seven ACC teams to compete in the NCAA tournament, but there are eight teams right now - including Maryland - with a legitimate chance at finishing .500 or better.
"Our goal is to make the tournament," said senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who has led the Terps in scoring in four of their past six games with an average of 20 points. "We have a chance to do that, especially if we stay positive within our team, and especially if we work on some little things and keep getting better. Hopefully we'll peak at the right time."
Clemson is last in the ACC with a scoring offense of 65.5 points a game, and junior guard Vernon Hamilton, the Tigers' leading scorer with 12.3 points a game, hurt his elbow and his thumb in Saturday's loss at Boston College and did not practice Sunday. Purnell said Hamilton is "very doubtful" for tonight's game.
Still, the Tigers have lost to the top four teams in the standings by an average of just 10.5 points a game. Maryland wasn't able to beat North Carolina, N.C. State or Duke, either.
Another opponent these teams have in common this year is a lone conference road win against Georgia Tech. The Terps played well at N.C. State, but struggled defensively at Miami and Temple.
"You can't get into a scoring contest on the road and expect to win very often," Williams said. "Most teams play better offensively at home, so you want to have your defense ready."
Clemson's defense has again been its strong point, and Purnell pointed out that last year, in addition to the strong play of Ford, the Tigers' ability to contain Gilchrist also factored into their success. This season, Clemson is third in the ACC with an average of 9.82 steals per conference game.
Clemson has played three overtime periods in its past five losses, including an 94-85 double-overtime loss to N.C. State. Purnell said he is now concerned about his team's psyche at the end of tight games.
"Hopefully we will come out with that same kind of confidence versus Maryland as the last five games, but then finish the job," he said. "I have every expectation that if we are prepared and play well, it's going to be a close game."