Dealing With 'The Gretzky'
Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell admitted he was worried about the precarious position in which his team entered last night's game. The Tigers had just come off a disappointing overtime loss at Virginia, while their opponent, Maryland, had won three of its last four games.
And despite the fact the Tigers executed well in the first half, they led by only six, which was further cause for concern for Purnell. "That's a recipe for going on someone's home court and winning," he said.
But Clemson's persistent inside-and-out attack eventually wore on the Terps, and Tigers forward Trevor Booker played a crucial role in that regard. Booker (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) was able to help establish a strong post presence for Clemson early and then keenly fended off double-team attention as the game progressed.
Booker forcefully backed down Landon Milbourne before turning for a lay-in to tally Clemson's first points of the night. He shook his head after the ball went in, as if to foreshadow how little luck the Terps would have at stopping him the rest of the game. He finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds and three assists.
"They've got to decide how they're going to double on (Booker)," Purnell said. "They can come across big-to-big, and then you've got to do a good job finding your runningmate in the frontcourt. If they come off a guard like they were early, then you've got to do a good job either of picking out the wide open guy or the guy who can make the pass to the open guy. And I thought (Booker) was really good at that. He was kind of the initiator. Even if he didn't have the assist, he had what we call 'the Gretzky' -- the ball that went to the guy who made the assist. He did a good job of recognizing where the trap was coming from."
Maryland, though, has had some success this season dealing with bigger and taller opposing frontcourts. Though undersized, the Terps big men unit of Dave Neal, Landon Milbourne and Dino Gregory in the past were able to use guile and quickness to negate their lack of height and brawn. They were aided in that regard by Maryland perimeter defenders, who provided help defense down low.
"We've beaten teams with size and athleticism before this year," Williams said. "They have a very good team. They deserve to be ranked where they are. And we knew that coming in. In the first half, we were able to play a little better and that size and athleticism didn't get us. It got us in the second half, but how much of that is our doing, by not doing what we're supposed to be doing, contributed to it."
Indeed, the Terps out-rebounded Clemson by one in the first half and ended the night losing the battle of the boards by a limited margin, 37-33. It was having to deal with a Clemson offense that saw the court well and passed the ball effectively -- not just along the perimeter, but in and out of the post -- that caused Maryland considerable problems.
While the Terps struggled mightily to adjust to Clemson's intense ball pressure and defensive quickness, the Tigers were able to exploit Maryland's most apparent weakness (lack of interior size) and turn it into two problems. Clemson shot 46.2 percent from three-point range on the night.
"That was Clemson offense, half-court offense," Purnell said. "They were doubling (Trevor Booker) down, and he was doing an outstanding job of finding people. I think he only took five or six shots on the game, but he set up so many other guys. Teams are going to double like that, and if we're making shots, it could be a long night for them. Because we have an ability to go on a tear from the outside."
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