Despite shooting 32 percent from the field, the Tigers improve to 16-6 overall (4-4 in ACC). The Terrapins drop to 14-6 overall (4-2 in ACC).
It was the lowest shooting percentage during a Clemson win since March 16, 1997 in an NCAA Tournament win over Tulsa.
Starting last March, Oliver Purnell began pushing the message of defense to this year’s team. From the look of Sunday’s win, it appears they’re really starting to buy it.
“Defense is more important than anything--defense and rebounding,” he said. “It’s easy to say it, but when you see something like this, and you’re involved in something like this, they see the message a little bit more.”
Maryland had 26 turnovers, half were steals and half were committed by preseason All-ACC selection Greivis Vasquez. The Terrapins shot 35 percent from the field and 20 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Tanner Smith spent most of the evening matched up on Vasquez, who scored 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field.
“He doesn’t say much, he just plays real hard,” Smith said. “I just had to get up in him and try to make him uncomfortable.”
By reading Vasquez’s body language, Smith believes he did just that.
“The first couple of possession he had a couple of turnovers and that charge that I took,” Smith said. “All 40 minutes, we were trying to make him uncomfortable.
“I think he felt that pressure.”
Jerai Grant didn’t.
The Maryland-native scored a career-high 18 rebounds and grabbed 12 rebounds with an ill Trevor Booker struggling to score from the field.
“When I went over my average in the first half, I knew at that point it was going to be a good game,” Grant said. “Winning is the most important game.”
Clemson seized its biggest lead of the game at 38-27 with 15:25 to play when Grant converted the foul shot on the and-one. Maryland then went on a 12-4 run, cutting the score to 42-39 at the 11:06 time-out. Almost three minutes later, Maryland led for the first, and only time in the game, thanks to an Eric Hayes field goal.
Andre Young said the Tigers showed plenty of mental toughness by retaking the lead and not giving it back.
“We call it a six-minute game in practice. The last six minutes of the game, we can’t turn the ball over, we have to get a good shot and we have to knock down free throws,” he said. “That’s pretty much what we did.”
After time-out, Clemson used an 8-2 run to take the lead back to 54-50 with 4:22 left on the clock. During the run, Booker made his first field goal of the game. Three minutes later, he brought the crowd to its feet with a three to go up 57-53.
Out to a 13-4 lead to start the game, Vasquez picked up his second personal foul with 17:04 to play in the first half.
With their best player on the bench, the Terrapins responded with an 8-0 run, which spanned four minutes. David Potter ended the stretch with a 3-pointer, off an assist by Trevor Booker.
It took another eight possessions before Clemson scored again. And again, it was the combination of Booker to Potter for three, as the Tigers reclaimed the lead at 19-16.
With just over eight minutes to play, Milton Jennings deflected pass at mid-court before giving Clemson a 21-16 advantage with a thunderous one-handed dunk. At times this season, the highly-touted freshman has struggled. Purnell doesn’t care for some of the criticism that’s accompanied Jennings’ troubles.
“We ought to be supportive--in my opinion--of our young, and recognize they’re young…We need to understand that,” Purnell said. “Obviously, that wasn’t everybody, because I heard some folks encouraging him when he came off the floor.”
Young played 37 minutes in place of starting point guard Demontez Stitt, who missed his second-straight game to a mid-foot sprain. With a week before Clemson’s next game against Virginia Tech, Purnell is uncertain whether Stitt will be back.