Clemson has undefeated start halted at MarylandJan 14, 2007 - 12:54 AM COLLEGE PARK, Maryland (Ticker) -- The invincibility of James Mays and Clemson has finally come to an end.
Mays scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as No. 14 Clemson became the last Division I team to absorb its first defeat, falling at No. 25 Maryland, 92-87, in an Atlantic Coast Conference contest.
Losing for the first time in 18 games this season, the Tigers (17-1, 3-1 ACC) missed a chance to record the best start in school history. They tied the 1986-87 squad's start with a thrilling 75-74 victory over Georgia Tech last Saturday.
Despite playing with history at stake, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell believes that his team did not get caught up in all the attention.
"No, they've been good about it," he said. "I can't say that that's the case. We had a fired-up Maryland team on their home court in the ACC on a Saturday afternoon. That's a tough deal."
The win by the Terrapins (15-3, 1-2) also halted the Tigers' undefeated run with the forward Mays in the lineup. Prior to Saturday, Clemson had been 28-0 since the start of 2005-06 with the 6-9 junior playing.
"Losing is not a great feeling and we have to regroup," Tigers freshman center Trevor Booker said. "Some people might say that we are overrated now. We struggled a lot. Struggling on defense is what killed us."
Mays did his best to continue the streak, grabbing 10 offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, some of those boards came off his own misses as he finished 9-of-23 from the field.
Looking to avoid losing its first three conference games for the first time since 1999-2000, Maryland used a 10-3 run late in the first half to grab a 48-42 advantage at intermission. James Gist scored 10 of his 12 points in the opening 20 minutes.
"We knew what was at stake," Terrapins forward Ekene Ibekwe said. "This game was the biggest game of our season. We knew that if we came out here and played hard and finished our baskets and made our free throws, we'd be able to come out with the win."
That advantage grew to 11 points late in the second half as the Terrapins sizzled from the field, going 14-of-23 (60.9 percent) after the break to finish 62.7 percent (32-of-51) overall.
"We did a couple of things to open up the offense," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We were predictable against Miami (on Wednesday), and we weren't today. The effort was better in every area of the court."
The Tigers had a chance to rally, closing within five points with 36 seconds remaining on a layup by Cliff Hammonds. However, Gist drew an offensive charge, wiping out the basket. Mike Jones made two free throws six seconds later to give the Terrapins a 91-82 lead.
In failing to stay with Maryland, Clemson had an opponent score more than 74 points for the first time this season.
"As far as we're concerned the stat sheet tells the story," Purnell said. "Defensively, we just weren't very good. I give Maryland credit for knocking down shots, but we gave up too many layups and we really didn't guard them in the half court. When you do that, you're going to have a tough night."
Ibekwe had 20 points and 10 rebounds, D.J. Strawberry scored 14 and Gist 12 for Maryland, which snapped a four-game losing streak against Clemson.
K.C. Rivers scored 18 points and Vernon Hamilton 15 for the Tigers, who converted just 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) free throws and were outrebounded by a 35-29 margin.
"The key to the game was the fact that we could rebound with them," Williams said. "There was no indication after the Miami game that would happen today, and that took a lot of willpower on the part of the players."
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