It was like watching the season in miniature.
The Maryland Terrapins suffered a disappointing- no, make that heartbreaking- loss on the road to the Virginia Cavaliers in overtime 61-58.
The game started just as the season had for the young Terps – full of promise and impressive play from a variety of players. With the game tied at 6 barely five minutes in, the Terps went on their most impressive run of the season and outscored UVA 19-2 in a six minute span. The run featured suffocating defense and superlative rebounding and those led to multiple opportunities for them in transition on the offensive end.
At various times in that first half the lead reached 17 points and the Terps were in such command the crowd at the John Paul Jones Arena was almost eerily silent.
In that first half Maryland fashioned their best twenty minutes of the entire season in a very difficult building to do just that. Virginia entered the game 15-1 at JPJ and their only loss was to Delaware early in the season before they had really found their identity. In the first half the Terp defense had harassed UVA’s all-ACC guard Joe Harris into shooting a horrendous 1-7 and doubled up the Cavaliers on the backboards 24-12.
Again, looking at this game as a microcosm of the season will also tell you that, in spite of their best efforts in the first half, the Terps didn’t seal the deal when they had the chance. They had the ball with a 16 point lead and the ball and a 2 second differential on the shot clock on what should have been the last possession of the first half.
Instead, a long Logan Aaronhalt three pointer hit nothing but the floor. On the ensuing dead ball inbound, UVA was allowed to push the ball against Maryland pressure and a Justin Anderson three pointer was good at the buzzer, cutting the lead to 13.
That may still seem like a comfortable halftime lead but in that situation it doesn’t matter so much if you score to increase your lead but the last thing you want to do is give a beaten team hope at home heading into their locker room.
Not only that, it was similar to Maryland’s last outing against North Carolina where a critical mistake just before the break led to a North Carolina three just before the half.
It was a killer in both games.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe the second half.
Suffice it to say, it was a hoops version of Chinese Water Torture. Drip by drip by drip.
For Virginia to come back and win the game it would require them to be much more aggressive in the second half. Lacking any real consistent scoring power they would not only need to get Harris going, they would need somebody to step up off their bench.
They would also need a little luck. Maybe a call here, a no-call there, a lucky bounce on a loose ball.
They got all of those and more.
So when Virginia caught fire in the second half and tightened the screws on the defensive end it could not have come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the Terps play this year. Every game just seems destined to be decided in the last few minutes, regardless of what might have happened in the first 30 or 35.
With the Terps stymied on the offensive end, Virginia cut into the lead inch by inch. First it was cut to ten. After a few minutes it was eight. A few minutes later six, then four….then it’s just a possession game in the last few minutes.
When Harris nailed a long three around a double screen in the last minute, UVA had completed an incredible comeback and tied the game at 52. The Terps were able to answer in the form of a Dez Wells runner on the ensuing possession and they had regained the lead with less than 30 seconds left.
The next possession would be one of the biggest of the season for each of the teams.
With just under six seconds left in the game, UVA called timeout before they were to inbound the ball on the wing on their offensive end. After they came out and lined up, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon used a timeout of his own. The play was clearly drawn up for Harris to receive the ball in the corner and the Terps were ready for it and he was denied the ball.
The only option for the Cavaliers was to look inside to freshman Mike Tobey, who had come off the Virginia bench to out-work Maryland’s Alex Len. On this, the last play of the game, he did it again. For whatever reason, Len attempted to deny the pass to Tobey, rather than just staying behind him and forcing Tobey to shoot over a long-limbed seven-footer.
Given the angle, Tobey caught the pass and wheeled past Len and got a wide open, unfettered six footer that he calmly tossed in and the game was tied. Maryland raced the ball up the court but a prayer at the buzzer was blocked we had overtime.
Overtime seemed painfully predictable.
Virginia’s interior tandem of Tobey and Akil Mitchell dominated much of the action down the stretch of regulation and did the same in overtime. When a clean look for Wells from the three point line went begging at the buzzer in OT the Terps had fallen to 20-11 overall and 8-10 in ACC play.
Maryland enters the ACC tournament this week as the seventh seed and will play tenth seeded Wake Forest on Thursday night in the first round.