Maryland men’s basketball hits the road for the first time this season to face Clemson Wednesday.
Part of this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge slate, the matchup marks the 140th all-time meeting between the two teams, but the first since the Terps’ departure from the ACC in 2014. Maryland lost that last contest six years ago, 77-73, but lead the all-time series 90-50.
Maryland’s game against Clemson is also one of just three games the team scheduled prior to the season that has not been canceled. The team has now had four different games canceled so far this season, all within the two weeks and each due to positive COVID-19 tests within its opponents’ programs.
The Terps’ last time out on the floor was in a victory against Saint Peter’s, a game in which sophomore guard Hakim Hart dominated from start to finish. Hart poured in a career-high 32 points on 11-of-13 shooting while making five of his seven attempts from three-point land in his first career start with the team.
Head coach Mark Turgeon noted that Hart only started due to an elbow injury suffered by junior guard Aaron Wiggins, but the sophomore nevertheless made a statement with his play last Friday that he’ll look to continue to build on.
The Terps and Tigers are set to tip-off from Littlejohn Coliseum at 5 p.m., with the game televised on ESPN 2.
Clemson Tigers (3-0, 0-0 ACC)
2019-20 record: 16-15 (9-11 ACC)
Head coach Brad Brownell enters his eleventh season at the helm for the Tigers, sporting a 185-142 record in 10+ seasons with the program. But, after stacking back-to-back 20+ win seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, Clemson took a step back under Brownell last year, winning its fewest games in season since 2014-15.
However, Clemson managed to pull off multiple upsets last season against the blue blood programs of the ACC. The Tigers defeated No. 3 Duke, No. 5 Louisville and No. 6 Florida State, with each win coming on their home floor. They also beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill for the first time in program history.
“I‘m a big fan of coach Brownell, I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a terrific coach,” Turgeon said. “Defensively, they’re really, really strong. Offensively, they’re much further along probably than some of his teams might be at this time of year. They’re putting up some points and shooting the ball well.”
Although Brownell has his squad out to a strong start, Clemson still projects to have only an outside shot at competing in the stacked ACC this season, coming in at No. 10 in the Preseason ACC Poll.
Players to Know
1. Aamir Simms, senior forward, 6’8, 245 lbs., — Simms once again came into this season as the Tigers’ primary scoring threat, and he has made good on that so far with his offensive play through three games. An All-ACC Third Team honoree last season, Simms leads the team in scoring this year, averaging 12.0 points per game while shooting 56.5 percent from the field. Simms also is tied for the team lead in assists this season (8), and has been lights out from the free-throw line (88 percent).
“He’s also a very versatile player,” said junior forward Jairus Hamilton, who played against him during his ACC days at Boston College. “He can do a lot, he can handle the ball, he score down low and he can even stretch out and hit a couple of shots. He’s a force to be reckoned with down low and just on the court.”
2. Al-Amir Dawes, sophomore guard, 6’2, 180 lbs. — After enjoying a breakout freshman campaign a year ago, Dawes has struggled to find a rhythm offensively this season. Leading the team in minutes per game (25.1), Dawes 8.3 points per game have come on just a 36.4 percent shooting clip. He’s also started the season making just one of his first 10 three-point attempts, but he’s tied with Simms for the team lead in assists with eight.
3. Nick Honor, redshirt sophomore guard, 5’10, 205 lbs. — Having sat all of last season due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules, Honor has been an important offensive contributor for the Tigers early this season. The Fordham transfer is currently second on the team in scoring at 10.0 points per game and scored 17 points in his first Clemson start against Purdue. Honor also is second on the team in assists (7), and is tied for the team lead in steals (6).
Free throw shooting. The Tigers have been one of the most efficient teams at the charity stripe this season, making its opponent pay consistently from the line. Clemson is currently shooting 76.6 percent from the free throw line, ranking 38th in Division I in that category. The team also has six different players shooting above 88 percent this season.
Rebounding. This year’s Clemson squad is relatively undersized, with its two leading rebounders so far this season being sub-6’5 guards in Hunter Tyson and Clyde Trapp. The Tigers have just 99 total rebounds this season and average 33 per contest, putting them at 209th and 239th in the country, respectively, in each of those categories.
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Hakim Hart stay hot? Prior to the season, Hart was tabbed by many as potential breakout candidate for the Terps. But now that we’ve seen his breakout, how will he follow it up? Hart figures to maintain his role as the first guard off the bench, proving his worth as an effective catch-and-shoot shooter from deep as well as a player that can consistently earn trips to the free throw line.
2. Will Mark Turgeon continue to tinker with the starting lineup? In four games this season, Turgeon has used a different starting lineup in each game. Though the last lineup change was motivated by Wiggins’ injury, it will be interesting to see if Turgeon keeps making adjustments to his starting five after relying on the same five starters for much of last season.
“I think we have seven starters on our roster this year,” Turgeon said. “And then we have some guys that are developing into being good players for us, so I think it’s just our roster [is] a little bit deep.”
3. How will the Terps look on the road? Last season, one of Maryland’s biggest weaknesses was its inability to consistently perform at a high level in hostile environments, finishing 5-6 in road games, but 3-0 in games played in neutral sites. Regardless, Wednesday’s game will be the first we see of this year’s Maryland team away from home, with the first road trip of the season coinciding with the toughest matchup of the season so far.
We’ll learn a lot about this year’s team based on its performance against Clemson tomorrow. Clemson a little under 2,000 fans in its arena, which will be unique to what the Terps should experience attendance-wise this season.
“I’m just looking forward to going out there and competing,” Ayala said. “[I’m] looking forward to see how it is with 2000 fans compared to none, and just trying go out there and compete to the best of our ability.”
It will also be the first opportunity for family members of Terp players to attend a Maryland game in-person, with many parents making the trip to South Carolina.
Vegas: Clemson -2.5
ESPN FPI: Clemson 63.9 percent chance to win
Kenpom: Maryland 67, Clemson 70 (41% chance to win)
Me: Maryland 64, Clemson 60