Fans like to throw the term "must-win" around, often all too loosely. But Virginia's road losses to BC and Florida State turned the UVA's regular season finale against Maryland into a game it absolutely had to have if it wanted to stay in the running for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Hoos' sense of urgency showed, as the team bounced back from a 17 point deficit to force overtime and win 61-58 on Senior Night for Jontel Evans and Doug Browman.
With the win, Virginia ended a wild regular season at 11-7 in ACC play and 21-10 overall. By virtue of owning a head-to-head tiebreaker over NC State, the Hoos have earned the #4 seed in the ACC Tournament for the second straight year and will play the winner of NC State vs. Virginia Tech Friday at 2:30 PM. Virginia's NCAA Tournament hopes will likely come down to its performance in the ACC tourney.
Nothing went right for UVA in the first half, as Maryland seemed to score at will, while the Hoos couldn't even get open looks to fall. Trailing by 13 points at the break after a Justin Anderson three-pointer, Virginia used the second half to slowly claw into the Terp lead. A PeShon Howard technical foul seemed to turn the tide, as UVA found the game back in reach. Down 50-42 with five minutes to play, the Hoos were finally able to connect multiple defensive stops and make big shots to cut the lead to 52-49, at which point a deep Joe Harris three-pointer tied the game. Dez Wells made a runner to give Maryland the lead back, but an inbounds play to Mike Tobey for a layup tied it again, and Anderson blocked a UMD shot to force overtime.
After taking criticism over the past two games for his end of game decision-making, Tony Bennett used a timeout with 8 seconds remaining and setup a perfect inbounds play; the Maryland defense was locked in on Joe Harris, but it was Mike Tobey who had shown the most complete offensive game. Anderson, the team's best passer, sent the ball just past Alex Len's outstretched arms, and Tobey easily laid the ball in to send the game to OT.
Late in UVA's first extra period of the season, Tobey tipped in a missed Akil Mitchell layup to give the Hoos the lead for good. Mitchell added a free-throw to extend a 61-58 lead, and a Wells three at the buzzer bounced just out to seal the Wahoo win.
Similar to games at Tallahassee and Boston College, Joe Harris didn't have his best outing of the year. He scored 15 points, but shot just 4 of 18 from the field. However, this time a gritty defensive performance and contributions from his teammates kept the Hoos in the game. Tony Bennett went big in the second half, and Mitchell and Tobey came through, scoring 17 and 13 points, respectively, with Akil notching a double-double. Just in time for postseason play, Tobey finally looks to be fully recovered from his bout with mono. Darion Atkins also scored his first points since the game at Miami in 7 active minutes.
Despite an off-shooting night (UVA shot 37% from the field and 25% from behind the arc), the Hoos climbed back into the game by tightening down on the defensive end. After two middling road performances, UVA held Maryland to just .87 points per possession, as the Terps shot 33% from the field. Projected NBA lottery pick Alex Len turned in yet another pedestrian performance, scoring 10 points on 2 of 9 shooting.
Justin Anderson had a monster game on the defensive side of the ball. While he put up a quieter stat line than his season-best performance in College Park, his five blocks and six rebounds, including one loud put-back dunk, had a constant influence on the game, as did his infectious energy. Anderson also added an efficient 8 points on 5 shots.
On senior night, Jontel Evans showed the type of game that has helped his team the most over the course of his four years as a Hoo. He didn't have a flashy stat line, but scored his only field goal on a big, tough layup late in the game. Though he turned the ball over 3 times, he facilitated for teammates on offense and played the stingy defense Wahoo fans have had the honor of enjoying for four years. The gritty overtime win was a fitting sendoff for four years of hard work from him and the graduating Doug Browman. Jontel has been maligned by fans at times, as he is certainly an imperfect player and an incomplete offensive point guard. What is also certain is that Virginia will miss his leadership ability, dominant defense, and persistant work-ethic.
As the ACC Tournament nears, Virginia's NCAA Tournament outlook remains cloudy. In the end, the team's fate will be determined by the whims of a Committee of questionable makeup using mostly archaic statistical tools. Therefore, UVA will be best served to win a couple games to seal its place in the Big Dance. (Actually, the Hoos will be best served winning three games and earning an ACC Championship and automatic berth). With all accounts putting Virginia squarely on the bubble, a win Friday against a top-30 RPI team may just be enough to send the team to its second straight NCAA berth, but only time will tell. That big game tips off at 2:30 PM on Friday and will air on ESPN2.
Until then, enjoy this view of "Lob City, Charlottesville," as Justin Anderson sets Akil Mitchell up for a loud ally-oop in this highlight: