CLEMSON — In the Tigers' four losses, leads have vanished, intensity has evaporated and Trevor Booker has gone missing.
In each of Clemson's defeats, Booker, the team's leading scorer (15.2 ppg, 56 pct.), has failed to reach double-digit shot attempts. It was most pronounced at Virginia when Booker remarkably attempted only one shot in the combined second half and overtime period.
The Tigers cannot afford another such disappearing act at 7:30 tonight at home against Maryland. A loss drops Clemson to seventh place in the ACC — a win ties the Tigers with Duke for second place.
Assistant coach Ron Bradley said the Tigers must be creative in how they use Booker.
"First off, get (the ball) to him,'' Bradley said. "The other thing is, he is an easy target if he is just standing in the post. He is easy to double. But if you move him out and then screen him in or he screens his way into the post … move him more on offense so he is not as easy of a target. That is our goal.''
A moving target is a more difficult one to defend.
So is a 250-pound, athletic forward that has range out to the arc.
Booker can beat forwards off the dribble. Bradley said there have been games where Booker has initiated more of his offense near the perimeter.
"He has a real nice shot fake,'' Bradley said, "he has (dribble-drive) moves…he can make an occasional 3. You have to respect that … his man has to go out and cover him.''
So starting Booker outside more often could help, or at least change up, the Tigers' half-court offense. But Booker says Oliver Purnell is hesitant to use him on the perimeter. "I know I can do it, but coach would rather have me inside throughout game.''
Booker is Purnell's only inside balance, and Purnell doesn't want to force the action.
Purnell credited Virginia's double teams with effectively taking Booker away in the second half Sunday.
"They either sagged or came across and doubled him,'' Purnell said. "When that happens, he is not going to get a lot of shot attempts unless you get out on (breaks).''
And when the double teams arrive, Booker says he must trust his teammates — and he has capable shooters to pitch and catch with in Terrence Oglesby and K.C. Rivers.
But the issue with Booker's usage is not all about opponents' keying on the post. Purnell has also noted that Booker's interest can wane, especially if he is not involved early in the game.
Part of the thinking behind moving Booker to the back of the press is to also allow Booker easy scoring chances and rev up his interest.
Part of the occasional low shot totals for Booker can be traced to his willingness to make himself available, and his teammates' lack of focus on post touches. After a 6 of 8 first half courtesy of a wheel-and-seal lob play Sunday, Clemson went away from it after the break.
In the half-court, Bradley says the staff keeps a record of post touches. Against Charlotte earlier in the season, Bradley said the team had just nine post touches, which he deemed unacceptable. Bradley didn't have Sunday's report but guessed that Clemson again missed its post-touch benchmark at Virginia — along with another opportunity.
Maryland at No. 13 Clemson
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m.; Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson.
RADIO: WQSC 1340-AM;
LINE: Clemson by 10½
Clemson (20-4, 6-4 ACC) HEAD COACH: Oliver Purnell (114-72 in sixth season at Clemson) PLAYERS TO WATCH: F-C Trevor Booker, 6-7, jr. (15.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg), G Terrence Oglesby, 6-2, so. (13.5 ppg), G-F K.C. Rivers, 6-6, sr. (14.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), PG Demontez Stitt (8.3 ppg, 3.6 apg) NOTES: Clemson is No. 13 in both polls, 10th in RPI : The Tigers are coming off a disappointing road loss at Virginia. It will be interesting to see how they turn around with just one off day against a Maryland team that has won two straight league games. The Tigers have won five of the last seven against the Terps, after losing 13 straight from 1998-2004.
Maryland (16-8, 5-5 ACC) HEAD COACH: Gary Williams (413-233 in 20 seasons at Maryland) PLAYERS TO WATCH: G, 6-6, jr. Greivis Vasquez (16.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg), G, 6-2, so. Adrian Bowie (9.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg), F, 6-7, Jr. Landon Milbourne (13 ppg, 5.5 rpg). NOTES: Maryland is rolling, having won three of four, and in a loss to North Carolina was able to manage 91 points at the Smith Center : Maryland is undersized but takes care of the basketball. The Terps are third in assist/turnover ration and turnover margin so Clemson's pressure might not be effective : Greivis Vasquez is a player to watch. He is 10th in the league in scoring, fourth in assists and first in free throw percentage (.882).