CLEMSON, S.C. - Rarely in basketball does one play perfectly illustrate just how far apart two teams are in talent and execution.
Clemson was beginning to pull away from the Terps after a competitive first half and was on its way to handing Maryland its worst defeat in the series, but no one could have predicted what was about to unfold.
Tigers sophomore guard Terrence Oglesby had just launched a three-point attempt from the left corner, but his high-arching shot came up short. The miss caromed high into the air, reaching its apex almost in slow motion, until, seemingly out of nowhere, Booker, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior, soared into the space above two Maryland defenders.
Booker cupped the ball in his left hand, and in one motion, just as gravity began to drag him back toward earth, he dunked it in a manner that was as violent as it was beautiful.
"The crowd went crazy, the bench went crazy, and I think for my other teammates, it probably sent chills through their body," Booker said. "That got us hyped."
The euphoria Booker unleashed ignited a 33-8 run that turned a close game - one Maryland badly needed to steal on the road - into a rout. And while it would probably be premature to say that Booker and the Tigers (21-4, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) also flushed away the NCAA tournament hopes of the Terrapins (16-9, 5-6), the loss put coach Gary Williams and his team in a difficult spot with back-to-back games against North Carolina and Duke looming.
"Clemson is going to hurt a lot of teams with their size and athletic ability, especially here, and they did that to us tonight," Williams said. "Booker is a proven player, and he hurt us. [A dunk like that] can make a difference, especially at home when it gets the crowd into it. You have to look at it like it's two points, and we weren't able to do that."
Booker finished with just 11 points, but he made all five of his shots and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Tigers, who shot 68.6 percent in the second half and 57.8 percent for the game. His dunk was one of eight on the night by Clemson, and during the Tigers' big run, he also hit a three-pointer, one of 12 made by his team. Oglesby led Clemson with 16 points, and Demontez Stitt added 15. Landon Milbourne led the Terps with 13.
"Book goes and gets it like that," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "He blocks shots, he runs and passes, he changes the game. He has that kind of ability. He can go up on the glass like that. It kind of ignited our team. It maybe deflated them a little bit."
In the first half, it didn't look as if Maryland was going to go quietly. Though the Tigers established an inside presence early by dumping entry passes to Booker, Raymond Sykes and Jerai Grant whenever possible, it didn't feel as if Maryland was really on the ropes until Oglesby hit a three with 3:32 remaining to give Clemson a 28-20 lead.
Though momentarily stunned, the Terps fought back by pushing the ball in transition, hitting free throws, scrambling for loose balls and converting just enough open jumpers to frustrate Clemson. Despite shooting 32 percent from the field in the first half, the Terps were still in the game. Maryland's leading scorer this season, Greivis Vasquez, started shakily, missing his first four shots, but he briefly came to life in the minutes before intermission, scoring six points to spark an 8-0 run. With less than a minute to go, Vasquez (12 points) found Dave Neal open for a 15-foot jumper that pulled Maryland within 30-28.
Vasquez, however, made one costly mistake that sent the Terps into the locker room on a sour note. Caught in a trap near midcourt, the junior guard tried a lazy pass to Neal near the three-point line, and Booker stepped in front of it. He zipped it ahead to point guard K.C. Rivers, who gave Clemson its sixth first-half dunk and a 34-28 lead.
The sloppy play seemed to foreshadow the blowout that was about to come. Before last night, Maryland's worst loss to Clemson was a 22-point defeat in 1977.
"Whenever you give a team like that a wide-open layup right before half, it does hurt you," said Neal, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
"It gave the crowd something to get excited about for the second half. We've got to get tougher. We can't let that happen."
play it again
Keys to the game
Trevor Booker's dunk off a three-point miss by Terrence Oglesby early in the second half sparked a 33-8 run by Clemson that put the game out of reach for Maryland. Booker said he didn't expect to dunk the ball when he caught it and that his plan was to gather it and go back up. But he was so high above the basket when he caught it, he decided to throw it down.
Did you notice?
* Freshman Sean Mosley played good defense and was active on the glass, grabbing seven rebounds, but he still needs to learn how to finish plays. He was just 1-for-7 from the field.
* Maryland's inability to guard against three-point shooters is perhaps its biggest weakness. Clemson went 12-for-26 and hit nine three-pointers in the second half.
* Adrian Bowie showed some promise, scoring eight points and adding seven assists. Now, if the Terps can just get him to ditch the goofy mohawk.
Left to ponder
To make the NCAA tournament, Maryland
almost certainly needs to go 8-8 in the
conference. That means the Terps need
to beat at least one of the following: North
Carolina, Duke or Wake Forest, all of which
have been ranked No. 1 in the country this
season. Do the Terps still have a shot?
NO. 3 NORTH CAROLINA (23-2, 9-2) @ MARYLAND (16-9, 5-6) Saturday, 3:30 p.m. TV: Chs. 2, 7 Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM