- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Nick Honor thumped his chest — once, then twice.

The Clemson guard had picked off an errant pass from Maryland forward Jairus Hamilton, sauntered down the floor in transition and stopped at the three-point line. That’s where Honor pulled up, drained his shot and brought the bench to their feet, celebrating another make in a night full of them.

Honor’s shot — the second straight triple the Tigers knocked down in a one-minute span — just about ended any hopes of a Terrapins comeback. The game had gotten within 12 points about four minutes earlier. But as the four-minute mark of the second half neared, Honor’s splash established a 20-point advantage again, carrying Clemson to a 67-51 victory over Maryland.

“Those were backbreakers,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “It took the energy out of our team, for sure, when they hit those back-to-back threes in transition.”

Throughout Wednesday night’s matchup, Maryland was second-best in every category. Turgeon’s squad struggled to get going, then couldn’t make up the difference late. Turnovers percolated the whole night, and the Tigers cashed in.

The abysmal performance from the Terrapins serves as a wake-up call of sorts for Turgeon and Co. following four warmup games. When Maryland next takes the floor, it’ll be for the Big Ten opener.

“We play Rutgers next. We’ve got to respond,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “We’ll go back, look at the film, see what we can improve on. But Big Ten play’s coming up, we’ve definitely gotta get ready for that, and I think this game kind of opened our eyes to it.”

In Maryland’s first four games — wins against Old Dominion, Navy, Mount St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s —the team averaged 84 points per game. The Terrapins never shot below 47.6 percent from the field in any of those, and seven different players scored in double-figures.

None of that offensive efficiency seemed to translate to Wednesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Clemson (4-0).

Maryland (4-1) couldn’t buy a basket early on. After Morsell’s lay-in less than a minute into the outing, the Terrapins went the next four minutes without another basket. And after guard Eric Ayala finished at the rim, they embarked on another scoring drought lasting almost three minutes.

That anemic offensive showcase dug a hole that kept growing larger throughout the first half. Maryland shot 26 percent in the opening period, rendered nonfunctional by a Clemson defense that entered No. 10 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s analytics. The Terrapins had more turnovers (10) than made baskets (6) in the first 20 minutes.

“This is the first team we’ve played this year that denied all the passes and stuff like that,” Morsell said. “I think that contributed to us not getting off to a great start.”

And while the Terrapins floundered on the offensive end, the Tigers pounced. Clemson built a 23-point halftime advantage, knocking down 45 percent of its three-point attempts throughout the night. Aamir Simms accounted for two of those, pacing his team with 16 points.

When guard Hakim Hart got a hand on a skip pass late in the first half, Maryland couldn’t corral the loose ball. Clemson could. And with time winding down on the shot clock, Aamir Simms drilled a 3-pointer with a hand in his face — part of his team-high 16 points.

“We weren’t ready to play,” Turgeon said. “We were out of it. We had a lot of guys not play well. We missed layups early, we missed free throws early, and turned the ball over. And we were about as selfish as any one of my teams have ever played. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Turgeon said his squad didn’t move the ball well on offense, instead standing and watching the ballhandler dribble. The coach saw an improvement when he inserted guard Reese Mona, who finished with four assists in his eight minutes of action. But by that point, there was little resurrecting the affair.

Plus, guard Aaron Wiggins still appeared to favor an injured elbow that limited him in practice last week and during Friday’s contest against St. Peter’s. The 6-foot-6 junior made two of his 10 shots Wednesday night, although both came from long distance.

Without Wiggins as the facilitator, the Terrapins made headway in the second half through Donta Scott. The forward drained a face-up jumper, then drilled a triple shortly thereafter, part of a seven-point run that helped narrow his team’s deficit. His 11 points paced his team.

The dismal first half was too much to overcome, though, and Honor’s transition 3-pointer with about four minutes remaining sealed what was known for quite some time. Maryland, in its first true test of the season, failed.

“I will say, I’m kind of glad we got to experience something like this early on,” Ayala said, “so we can learn from it and be ready to approach practice differently than we have in the past.”

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