- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

CLEMSON, S.C. — It was all too easy last March to point to the Maryland basketball team’s three losses to Clemson as the primary culprits for the end of the Terrapins’ streak of 11 NCAA tournament appearances.

And if the Terps don’t earn an NCAA nod next month, they might look at last night’s loss to the Tigers in much the same light.

Maryland stalled at the start of the second half with a cocktail of turnovers, porous perimeter defense, poor shooting and shaky decision-making, turning a tight game into an 89-77 loss to the Tigers at Littlejohn Coliseum.

“We’ve seen it about 10 times,” coach Gary Williams said. “You have to be ready to play. Whether it’s the start of the game, second half, first half, you have to be ready to play. I can’t go out there and play. You have to be ready to play as a player. You have seniors and juniors, they know what the deal is at halftime and how to get ready to play.”

The damage report from the Terps’ latest loss — their fifth in seven games since guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible last month — was typical. Maryland (15-9, 5-6 ACC) fell to 1-5 in true road games, a figure the NCAA tournament selection committee takes into account while selecting the 65-team field.

There were 26 turnovers against a Clemson team missing defensive ace Vernon Hamilton because of a thumb injury.

There were a dozen 3-pointers allowed — hardly an uncommon number for the Terps, only this time it was the conference’s worst outside shooting team shredding their defense.

And there was the cold second-half shooting (35 percent) that aborted any attempt to rally.

Throw in right knee cramping that hampered guard Mike Jones and an illness that limited point guard D.J. Strawberry’s effectiveness and the Terps were left with a loss to a team that had dropped five straight to take its usual place near the bottom of the conference.

“I just think right now, everybody has to do a lot of soul-searching on this team and look themselves in the mirror and think about how bad you want to win, how bad you want to prepare and how bad you want to dedicate your life to this game,” said senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who scored a team-high 21 points.

The Terps were in decent shape at the break, tied 43-43 after their solid shooting and strong rebounding were neutralized by turnovers and Clemson’s hot outside shooting. Maryland even hung around for a few minutes in the second half before the Tigers (15-10, 4-8) took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by K.C. Rivers that made it 52-50.

That set off a 22-3 run for the Tigers, one littered with 3-pointers, easy inside baskets and plenty of Maryland turnovers. In the seven-minute stretch, the Terps had barely more points (three) than timeouts burned (two).

“Second half, first 10 minutes, we just didn’t compete,” Williams said.

Clemson’s primary outside shooter was Shawan Robinson, who produced a 24-point outing to match his output against Maryland in last year’s ACC tournament. Robinson made five 3-pointers last night, a credit as much to his frequent open looks as his shooting touch.

Rivers, Cliff Hammonds and Troy Mathis each connected on a pair of 3-pointers as the Terps were torched for at least nine 3s for the 11th time in 13 games.

“We come out and play pretty hard, and other teams come out and knock down shots due to our defense,” Jones said. “I’m not saying we played poor defense — we played pretty good defense during stretches. They got rebounds again. It’s just small things, little things that we have to take care of. We’re just not putting the finishing touches on it, and it’s killing us right now.”

Maryland mounted a brief rally, scoring 11 points in a row to pull within 71-64. Clemson, though, never permitted the Terps to draw any closer.

It was long since decided by the final minute, and Caner-Medley only could stare blankly ahead as he dribbled away the final eight seconds in the backcourt. An attempt even to run a play was fruitless, the unmistakable damage already inflicted on a struggling team teetering toward another missed NCAA tournament.

“The most frustrating part is being a senior and preparing really hard,” Caner-Medley said. “This is my life, and I spend all my time preparing for this and these games, and to lose is tough. It’s something you don’t ever want to get used to.”

Added Williams: “This time of year, you are what you are. What are we in the league right now, 5-6? That’s where we are right now.”

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