Clemson Stuns No.22 Maryland
CLEMSON - With much of the Clemson nation focused on today's national signing day for college football, the Tigers' basketball team made a case Tuesday night for at least some of this morning's headlines.
Clemson, reeling after five straight losses - all in ACC play - stunned visiting Maryland Tuesday night, 88-73, before an announced crowd of 6,700 at Littlejohn Coliseum. Whether or not there were actually that many fans in the stands mattered little, especially at the end, when the student section stormed the floor to help Clemson (11-10, 2-7) celebrate easily its biggest win of the season.
The victory also snapped a 13-game losing streak to the Terrapins (13-6, 4-4).
"We've been saying over and over that we're getting better. Now we have something to show for it," Clemson head coach Oilver Purnell said. "You've heard me say we're close...well this wasn't close tonight. This was it. We've been getting better, and it's nice to have something to show for it.
"Now it will resonate with our guys even more that we're getting better."
Vowing that his team would defend better than it did in recent defeats, Purnell shook up his starting lineup Tuesday. In the process, Clemson fans may have discovered a new folk hero.
Freshman Sam Perry, in his first career start (along with fellow freshman James Mays), turned in the performance that won't soon be forgotten by the Littlejohn faithful. Perry not only played a critical role in shutting down Maryland star forward Nik Caner-Medley (nine points on 4-of-14 shooting), but shocked everyone - including his coach - by scoring a career-high 14 points.
His energy on both ends of the floor had the dual effect of lifting his teammates and helping keep the fans involved as the Tigers built what would become a 21-point lead in the second half. That lead, 77-56, came on Perry's follow jam of a Cliff Hammonds' miss with 6:35 left in the game, and whipped an already raucous crowd into a frenzy.
When he came out of the game moments later, Perry was greeted by a standing ovation.
"It was just a matter of time," Perry said of his performance. "I stuck to my formula, played defense first, and everything else took care of itself. The offense just came. I didn't force nothing. It was just there...everything fell into place."
And as for the ovation?
"It was an amazing feeling hearing people screaming (for me)," he said with a broad smile. "I hope this isn't a one-time only thing. I don't plan on it being (that)."
Perry had plenty of help on the offensive end of the floor.
Senior center Sharrod Ford scored 25 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, dominating the Terrapin big men on both end of the floor. Ford connected on 10-of-15 field goals, and more importantly hit 5-of-7 free throws after a 1-of-8 performance from the line last Saturday vs. N.C. State.
"He's been playing that way. His last three or four games have been 20 and 10, 15 and 10," Purnell said. "Tonight he just hit his free throws, which made it that much better."
Maryland coach Gary Williams was even more direct.
"Ford killed us," he said. "We couldn't stop him. We played bad defense and then Clemson shot 50 percent from the floor. Then we play bad offense and Clemson plays good defense. You have to give them a lot of credit."
While Ford controlled the inside, Shawan Robinson came off the bench to light up the perimeter.
Robinson finished with 22 points and hit 5-of-8 of his 3-point attempts. Hammonds, running the point against Maryland's pressure most of the night, scored 10 points and had 7 assists in 33 minutes of play.
More imposing than the point totals, though, was the sheer energy with which Clemson played.
Maryland was caught on a short turnaround, having played at 5:30 p.m. Sunday and getting little preparation time for Tuesday's 7 p.m. start. Whether it was fatigue, lethargy or both, the Terrapins never approached Clemson's intensity level at any point in the contest.
"Yeah, we had a quick turnaround, but there's no excuse," Williams said. "It might have hurt our preparation a little, but it shouldn't have affected our effort. Clemson just played harder than we did."
Clemson led for all but one possession of the game, going up 13-2 early and hanging on until Maryland fought back to take a 23-22 lead on a short jumper by Sterling Ledbetter with 6:37 left in the half.
But Cheyenne Moore answered with a deep 3-pointer from the left corner on Clemson's next possession, a basket which keyed a 23-6 run to close the half.
Clemson led by 16 at the break, and Maryland never got closer than 12 points in the second half.
John Gilchrist led Maryland with 18 points, while Chris McCray added 11 and Ledbetter 10.
MARYLAND (13-6) Garrison 1-4 2-4 4, Caner-Medley 4-14 0-0 9, Bowers 1-2 0-0 2, Gilchrist 3-12 12-14 18, McCray 4-9 2-2 11, Ledbetter 4-6 2-2 10, Gist 3-8 0-2 6, Grinnon 0-1 0-0 0, Jones 2-2 3-4 7, Ibekwe 2-3 2-2 6. Totals 24-61 23-30 73.
CLEMSON (11-10) Perry 6-9 2-2 14, Mays 0-3 0-0 0, Ford 10-15 5-7 25, Hamilton 1-2 0-0 2, Hammonds 3-9 3-4 10, Babalola 3-9 2-5 8, Moore 1-4 0-0 3, Hudson 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 8-13 1-2 22, Akingbala 2-4 0-1 4. Totals 34-68 13-21 88.
Halftime-Clemson 45-29. 3-Point Goals-Maryland 2-11 (McCray 1-2, Caner-Medley 1-6, Ledbetter 0-1, Garrison 0-2), Clemson 7-18 (Robinson 5-8, Moore 1-3, Hammonds 1-4, Babalola 0-3). Fouled Out-Garrison, Ibekwe. Rebounds-Maryland 40 (Caner-Medley 8), Clemson 39 (Ford 10). Assists-Maryland 8 (Gilchrist 3), Clemson 19 (Hammonds 7). Total Fouls-Maryland 21, Clemson 22. A-6,700.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.