- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CLEMSON, S.C. | Clemson forward Trevor Booker’s arm floated above the rim to deposit the carom of an errant 3-pointer in one smooth motion. It seemed like his levitation act lasted a minute. Clearly it was less, but Booker’s message was emphatic.

Beyond audaciously sneering at Newtonian principles, Booker’s head-bobbing upon returning to the floor was a reminder to Maryland of who possessed an overwhelming surplus of athleticism in an extremely partisan environment.

Tuesday night, it was not the Terrapins.

So while Clemson had monster jams and a seemingly endless supply of 3-pointers, Maryland had a malfunctioning offense early and a worn-down defense late.

As such, a 93-64 loss to the No. 13 Tigers at raucous Littlejohn Coliseum was apropos. It was an understandable outcome for Maryland against an opponent with superior athleticism in the paint, no shortage of perimeter options and the wits to fully exploit both.

“We’ve beaten teams with size and athleticism before this year,” coach Gary Williams said. “They have a very good team. … The first half, if we play a little better, that size and athleticism didn’t get us. It got us in the second half. But how much of that is our doing by not doing what we’re supposed to be doing?”

Landon Milbourne scored 13 points to lead Maryland (16-9, 5-6 ACC), which fell below .500 in the conference after winning three of its previous four.

Terrence Oglesby had 16 points and Demontez Stitt added 15 for Clemson (21-4, 7-4), which made a dozen 3-pointers and recorded its largest margin of victory ever against the Terps, besting a 22-point rout in 1977.

It was the opening of a defining stretch for the Terps, a six-pack of headaches for a bunch that has held up better than expected this season. With visits from North Carolina and Duke looming, this was an opportunity (albeit a harrowing one) to alleviate a bit of pressure.

It didn’t happen, as Booker’s dunk with Clemson up just 40-35 ignited the Tigers. Ten minutes later, Clemson was up 76-50.

“That’ll probably be a top-10 play of the week,” Maryland forward Dave Neal said.

Clemson had no problems when it got it inside to Booker, Jerai Grant and Raymond Sykes, who were a combined 10-for-10.

Yet the Tigers were still ruthlessly efficient from the perimeter, exploiting Maryland’s decision to sag down on Booker in much the same way North Carolina did three weeks when the Terps minded Tyler Hansbrough. Maryland didn’t yield 100 points this time, but Clemson was still 12-for-26 from the outside.

“For them to double him like that, if we make shots, it could be a long night for them because we have the ability to go on a tear from the outside as long as we get great shots,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “The ball movement was really, really good in the second half. The extra pass, the extra pass, there was wide open shots, kind of H-O-R-S-E shots. Good shooters are going to make a lot of those.”

If there was something surprising in how Clemson dispatched the Terps, it was that Maryland actually withstood the Tigers’ pressure defense until after things unraveled. The Terps committed 14 turnovers - hardly a whopping total against such a suffocating foe.

Williams argued it was the offense that let down Maryland, and it certainly didn’t operate with much effectiveness in the halfcourt. The Terps partially counteracted it with free throws and managed to make it to the break down six.

It didn’t stay that close much longer as Clemson’s affinity for substitutions gradually eroded the Terps in the final 20 minutes.

“I think it was just us not coming in with an attitude we could get a win,” Milbourne said. “Some of the guys felt like we could, but I just don’t feel overall the energy on the team was positive enough to get a win. If we had played harder in the first half and executed better early in the second half, it would have been a different situation.”

The Terps would like uncover such a scenario - and quick. No. 3 North Carolina enters Comcast Center on Saturday, and moving past last night’s ugly second half is a paramount priority in the coming days.

“You negative guys back at Maryland, just understand we have a good basketball team,” Williams said. “We’re 5-6 in this league, and we have some good games coming up. That’s our attitude.”

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