CLEMSON, S.C. - Littlejohn Coliseum was more than half empty, and most the students still were away on Christmas break.
The small crowd wasn't what you'd expect for an ACC opener, and Clemson and No. 17 Maryland actually played some good basketball before the Terrapins pulled away late for a 104-92 win Tuesday night.
There was little to no defense, but the theater befitted the game's circumstance if the atmosphere didn't. The teams played adding-machine basketball - they combined for 115 first-half points, and four players scored more than 22 points - as the underdog Tigers stayed close almost throughout.
Clemson was within 83-82 with less than eight minutes left, but Maryland (10-3, 1-0 ACC) strung together a 9-1 spurt and found enough defense to win its ninth straight game.
The Terrapins were the first Clemson opponent to eclipse 100 points since North Carolina registered 106 on Jan. 15, 1994, in Chapel Hill.
"Every other game I've been involved with here has been tough," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team hit its last eight free throws. "I was surprised they could stay with us."
Clemson guard Will Solomon finished with 32 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Maryland got the brunt of its production from its three best players - forward Terence Morris (26 points), forward Lonny Baxter (24) and guard Juan Dixon (22). The three combined for 24-of-40 shooting and forged an effective inside-outside combination.
Though they didn't leave with a victory, the Tigers were somewhat comforted by their ability to give fits to an elite team on their home court.
"It gives us a lot of confidence to be able to play with them," said Tigers guard Tony Stockman, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting. "They've got a lot of good scorers, and they put up a lot of points night after night. For us to stay with them, we're really proud of that."
Maryland appears supremely talented but frequently is undone by sporadic execution. The NBA scouts who came to watch several Terrapins couldn't have liked everything they saw. And at times neither did Williams, whose frustration was as obvious as the furrow in his brow in the first half.
"To score 59 points at the half and only be up three is really something that we need to address," he said.
Williams was referring to a first half that was a game in and of itself. The Terps entered the locker room with a 59-56 lead, shot 61 percent and got 18 points from Dixon and 17 from Baxter. Solomon paced Clemson with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting before halftime.
By most accounts, the Tigers were undone by an aggressive zone deployed by the Terrapins after intermission. Clemson shot 54 percent in the first half but just 35 percent thereafter.
"The game turned with the zone," Solomon said. "We're shaky with the zone, and we have to put a little more work in it."
After falling behind by 10 points early in the first half, Clemson tied it several times before taking its first lead when swingman Dwon Clifton drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to put the Tigers up 67-65 with 17:04 left.
But two minutes later, Morris converted an old-fashioned 3-point play for a 71-69 lead to give the Terrapins the advantage for good.
"This was an exciting game, an entertaining game for everyone who attended," said Clemson coach Larry Shyatt, whose team will travel to No. 3 Duke on Sunday. "I am proud of my guys. They played hard, they competed. At times, we had Maryland on their heels defensively."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
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