Pe’Shon Howard drove toward the basket, beating his defender before another was quick to slide. Seeing another blue jersey headed his way, Howard quickly found Alex Len in the paint.
With Alex Len quiet and Virginia raining threes, Maryland could never wrestle momentum away from UVA. (Bill Bride photo)
Almost immediately, Len was swarmed by two Virginia players – Akil Mitchell and Justin Anderson – forcing him to put up a bad shot that inevitably gave the ball right back to the Cavaliers.
Maryland couldn’t handle Virginia’s pressure defense Sunday afternoon, as the Cavaliers pulled away for an 80-69 victory in front of 16,895 fans inside Comcast Center.
Virginia (17-6, 7-3 ACC) applied suffocating pressure in the paint, collapsing four defenders on driving players and double-teaming the Terps’ big men immediately each time they touched the ball. With no help from the perimeter – Maryland shot 5-for-17 from 3-point range – the Terps (17-7, 5-6) had no answer to Virginia’s stingy style of play.
“Our big guys are supposed to turn and face and throw it to the open guy,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s four vs. three on the backside. It’s not that hard, but we didn’t do a very good job with it. We practiced it. We worked on it really hard. We just didn’t handle it very well.”
“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do very well,” guard Logan Aronhalt added. “Guys were supposed to space the floor, have one guy cutting to the rim at all times. We didn’t find open areas. Guys were stagnant, not really moving. When teams double team like that you have to make them pay and take them out of it. We never made them pay.”
Virginia’s defense was only half of the story, though, as the Cavaliers shot lights-out from beyond the arc. Led by Joe Harris and Paul Jesperson, who combined to make seven 3-pointers, Virginia shot 58 percent from 3-point range.
“Well obviously we moved the ball well,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We had different guys shooting well, and we were very efficient. It probably helped us out when we were turning the ball over down the stretch. I thought we had a hard time containing them off the dribble. Thankfully, we were able to overcome that with some good shooting and some good offense.”
Four players finished in double-digit scoring for the Cavaliers: Harris (22), Anderson (17), Mitchell (13) and Jespersen (12). The Cavaliers shot 26-for-48 from the field, and the team’s five other rotational players combined to score just 16 points.
The Terps, meanwhile, shot 29 percent from 3-point range and 55 percent from the free throw line. Only two players finished in double figures for the Terps – Dez Wells (13) and Seth Allen (11) – but every one of the team’s 10 rotational players scored at least one basket.
“Guys just have to make shots,” said guard Nick Faust, who finished with eight points on 4-for-9 shooting. “That’s all we can say.”
After taking a quick lead to start the game, the Terps quickly fell behind as Virginia dictated the tempo and started to get hot from deep. The Cavaliers went on an 18-6 run, with half of the points coming off 3-pointers, taking a commanding lead.
Maryland did pose a slight comeback, going on an 8-0 run, but Virginia retook control before halftime, with Anderson scoring five straight points and the Terps failing to convert on their final possession. At the half, Virginia held a 35-29 lead.
And after a 12-5 run to start the second half, Virginia never looked back. Maryland couldn’t get over the hump, trailing by at least 10 for most of the game.
“I thought Virginia was great from start to finish,” Turgeon said. “I thought it was their day. They had a lot to do with it making it their day. Every loose ball, every 50-50 play, we seemed lethargic, a half step slow from the beginning. We just couldn’t guard them. They’ve lost a couple players, and they’ve gone small. They’ve become really hard to guard. We couldn’t flat out guard them at the end of the day.”
With the loss, Maryland dropped its fourth straight to Virginia. The Cavaliers also won their third straight game in College Park, the first time they’ve done so since Jan. 16, 1991-Feb. 4, 1993.
More importantly for this season, though, was the hit the Terps’ postseason resume took with a loss to a team similarly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. With a loss to a second-tier ACC team at home and just seven games left in the regular season, the Terps now face an uphill climb toward earning a berth to the Big Dance.
“We’ve got to go,” Aronhalt said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do this week preparing for Duke and really working on ourselves. At times, we’ve been right there. Guys have seen that. Today we just didn’t have it. We’ve got to find a way to have it 100 percent of the time.”