COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Gary Williams labeled his players a “fragile” group after competitive losses to Duke and Villanova and Thursday night’s debacle against Virginia Tech over the last two weeks.
His team’s psyche had to feel even more tenuous in the final seconds Saturday, as a planned free throw miss by Cliff Tucker inexplicably rolled out of bounds, giving Clemson’s Demontez Stitt a chance at a half-court prayer to win the game. However, the shot bounced off the backboard as time expired, giving Maryland (12-7, 2-3 ACC) a 79-77 win over Clemson.
“We had to find a way to win that game, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a 20-point win,” said Williams, referencing Maryland’s once-comfortable 13-point lead in the first half. “Clemson’s too good.”
Badly needing a victory to right the ship and avoid a 1-4 start in the ACC, the Terps used a balance scoring attack as four players reached double figures, led by Jordan Williams’ 16 points and 11 rebounds. The sophomore set a new school record with his 13th straight double-double, breaking Len Elmore’s previous record set in the 1973-74 season.
“It is very cool,” the sophomore said. “I never came in expecting to get a record my sophomore year or at all. I just want to do whatever I can to help us get the win with that record. It’s a great honor to be in the same category as Len Elmore.”
Unlike recent games, the Terps were able to efficiently deliver the ball to Williams in the paint as Maryland’s outside shooting prevented Clemson (13-6, 2-3 ACC) from copying the strategy of collapsing inside that teams had employed in recent weeks. The Terps went 6-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half and 8-for-14 in the game. Terrell Stoglin and Cliff Tucker each made three shots from beyond the arc, as many of Maryland’s outside looks came off dribble penetration.
It was the Terps’ second most efficient performance from beyond the arc this season, with only a 9-for-15 performance against NJIT trumping that.
Perhaps more encouraging than any other factor was Maryland’s ability to make free throws down the stretch in a close contest, a deficiency that’s plagued the Terps throughout the season. Maryland shot 23-35 (65.7 percent) from the free-throw line in the game, but the Terps were 10-for-13 from the charity stripe in the final two minutes.
One of those misses was Tucker’s intentional miss with 1.6 seconds left that inexplicably bounced off the rim and went out of bounds to set up Clemson for a final unsuccessful shot to win the game.
“I’ve never seen that in my life, in like 1,200 games,” said the coach about the last-second drama. “I never saw that. I don’t know how it got out of bounds, the angle it got out of bounds. It’s just like, ‘Oh, no. Here we go.’”
Terrell Stoglin and Adrian Bowie returned to the starting lineup after Tucker and Pe’Shon Howard made the start against the Hokies Thursday night, and the Terps turned in strong performance offensively, shooting 50 percent from the field and handing out 16 assists to only 10 turnovers against the Tigers.
The other surprising change to the lineup was freshman Haukur Palsson replacing Sean Mosley in a move intended to ignite some early energy for the Terps, according to Williams. Two quick fouls quickly sent Palsson to the bench, but the spark was present throughout the day and countered Clemson’s ability to answer every Maryland run.
It was the fifth lineup Maryland had used this season as Williams continues to search for consistency in the backcourt.
“Our offense was probably as efficient as it’s been in awhile,” Williams said. “We shot 50 percent against a good defensive team. Clemson is a team that’s been winning. You can tell that by the way they play. They have outstanding leadership in the backcourt.”
The Terps’ own leadership had been largely absent in recent losses, but seniors Tucker (15 points), Bowie (13 points), and Dino Gregory (nine points) had strong performances in the second half, providing the complement to Williams’ inside presence to give Maryland its biggest victory of the season.
It was Bowie’s fourth straight game in double figures while Tucker has reached double digits in seven of his last eight games.
“They were great today, and they have to grab control,” said Gary Williams, who had all three seniors on the floor down the stretch with Stoglin and Howard mostly relegated to the bench. “I think that’s one of the themes with this year’s team: this is your team, this is your senior year. You’re remembered for what you do your senior year, there’s no doubt about it.”
The Terps will enjoy four days off before traveling to Virginia on Thursday night to take on Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, who improved to 2-3 in the ACC with a win at Georgia Tech on Saturday. Just as they couldn’t dwell on the deflating loss against Virginia Tech, the Terps can’t celebrate Saturday’s win as they now take a two-game road trip to Virginia and Georgia Tech — two winnable games.
“We had a meeting [Friday] night and we are at a crossroads right now,” Tucker said. “Today was a good win. We didn’t want to think about last game, just today. The guys came out today and everybody played hard as a group. It wasn’t just one guy out there winning it for us. … Hopefully we can keep this going.”
NOTES: The Terps wore their white uniforms on Saturday, interrupting their recent tradition of wearing the gold uniforms at home against ACC opponents. … Stoglin scored 13 points, reaching double figures for the first time in five games. … Williams was just 4-for-9 from the free-throw line, but made both of his attempts in the final two minutes of the game. … Maryland posted just 10 turnovers, tied for its fourth best effort this season. … Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear post-game reaction from Gary Williams, Jordan Williams, and Cliff Tucker.