Cavs outlast Terps in OT, secure fourth seed in ACC Tourney
During the first half of the Virginia men’s basketball team’s Senior Night home tilt against conference rival Maryland Sunday night, many observers likely wondered whether the squad that had clawed its way to a winning conference record and at-large NCAA tournament consideration had departed Charlottesville—mentally, at least—with the rest of the student body for Spring Break.
By the final buzzer, the “real” Cavaliers had returned—along with their still threadbare tournament hopes.
Trailing by 17 on three different occasions in the first 20 minutes, Virginia roared back to force overtime on freshman forward Mike Tobey’s lay-in with under five seconds remaining and eventually edged Maryland 61-58 to claim its 17th consecutive home victory. With the win, the Cavaliers (21-10, 11-7 ACC) clinched the No. 4 seed and a crucial first-round bye in next week’s ACC Tournament. They will play the winner of Thursday’s contest between N.C. State and Virginia Tech.
Desperately needing a boost to sustain at-large eligibility after two agonizingly close road losses to Boston College and Florida State, Virginia floundered at the outset Sunday. Led by Nick Faust’s 13 first-half points, the Terrapins (20-11, 8-10 ACC) drubbed the Cavaliers in every facet of the game to build a comfortable 32-19 lead. Junior guard Joe Harris personified Virginia’s plight, scoring just 3 points on 1-of-7 shooting and looking fatigued against an inspired, explosive Maryland squad.
The Cavaliers, however, slowly whittled away the Terrapins’ advantage after the break thanks to the resurgence of their customarily smothering pack-line defense. Though Harris shot just 3-of-10 and the team just 10-of-25 in the second period, improved rebounding and a 14-of-18 clip at the foul line enabled Virginia to enter the final minute of regulation tied at 52. After Dez Wells restored Maryland to the lead with a running floater, Tobey caught the inbounds pass deep in the paint and converted to extend the action for another five minutes.
The two teams traded baskets to start the extra period until Tobey’s tip-in off junior forward Akil Mitchell’s miss prodded the Cavaliers ahead 60-58. Maryland had an opportunity to send the game to a second overtime after Mitchell hit one of two free-throws with seven seconds left, but Wells’ 3-pointer missed the mark at the buzzer.
Shaking off a punchless first half, Mitchell and Tobey combined for 30 points and 16 rebounds and mostly neutralized Terrapin 7-footer Alex Len in the second half to highlight Virginia’s escape. Despite his third consecutive forgettable shooting performance, Harris finished with 15 points for the Cavaliers.
Senior point guard Jontel Evans had 3 points and 3 assists in his final regular-season appearance at John Paul Jones Arena.