It was announced just three hours before tip-off, and when Virginia Cavaliers fans learned that the star of the team and current ACC Rookie of the Year had been suspended for failure to meet his academic obligations, a wave of panic struck John Paul Jones Arena. How could a team who has gone 0-8 in conference play possibly upset the team that sat atop the ACC and who had just upended No. 4 Duke? As it turns out, the answer was simple. There's a lot of fight left in this young Cavalier squad.
Saturday's matchup against Maryland started out with pretty much more of the same. Down by as many as 14 points late in the first half, and at one point being outrebounded 14-1, you could feel the crowd, and at times, it looked like even the players, getting complacent with the team's role at the cellar of the ACC.
But the team would have none of it. On senior night, Jerome Meyinsse (3.6 GPA in Econ, folks) continued his late-season resurgence, leading the team with 17 points. Jeff Jones and Sammy Zeglinski also regained their shots, contributing 16 and 14 points respectively. Both Jones and Zeglinski hit 4 threes each.
The Hoos climbed back within one, with only 38.6 seconds to go. John Paul Jones, for the first time in over a month, rocked with excitement. Virginia fans knew that this game was theirs to win.
That is, until the refs took things into their own hands. After what was questionable foul call at best, Tony Bennett, thinking the refs weren't looking, peeled off his jacket and threw it on the floor in disgust. He then immediately sat down and readjusted his tie, but that was enough for the officials to hand Bennett his first technical foul of his career -- as a player, as an assistant coach, or as a head coach.
Given that Gary Williams was on the other side, I simply cannot understand this call. This was easily the most incensed we have seen Bennett to date, but he was easily 20 feet away from the closest official, he was faced away from them, and he immediately sat down afterwards. Compare this with the in-your-face tactics that Gary Williams, Coach K, or Roy Williams employs, I find this pretty hypocritical. And when it's a one point game with about a possession's worth of time to go? I feel the rage rebuilding up while typing this.
At the end of the day, Virginia fell to No. 22 Maryland, 74-68, and Maryland clinched a share of the ACC regular season title, in the worst possible way. Still, it is something special to see a team on one of the worst losing streaks in program history lose their star player and yet continue to play with such intensity that you'd expect them to be a NCAA contender.
Virginia, seeded 9th in the ACC Tournament, looks to face 8th-seeded Boston College at noon in Greensboro. The last time the two teams played (in front of a sell-out crowd of roughly 4,000), Boston College outright smoked Virginia. Look for a much more competitive game this time around, and you'll be shocked to hear that I think we've got a great chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.