Virginia stands alone in third-place in the ACC after traveling to Maryland and beating the Terps 80-69. Despite losing Mike Tobey to mono and playing with a limited Darion Atkins, the team shut down 7-foot-1 NBA prospect Alex Len and used lights-out three-point shooting to keep Maryland at bay. With the win, UVA improved their ACC road record to 2-3, and stand at 17-6 (7-3 ACC) with 8 games to play; Maryland falls to 17-7 (5-6).
UVA's hot outside shooting was highlighted by Joe Harris and Paul Jesperson, who both had impressive and efficient outings. The two shot 3 of 4 and 4 of 4 from behind the arc, respectively, as the team finished 58% on three-pointers (higher than its 52% on twos) on its way to an absurd 64% eFG%. Harris was 7 for 8 with 22 points and appeared unfazed by UMD's persistent defensive focus on him.
Coach Tony Bennett employed lineups new to Wahoo fans to compensate for the team's lack of front-court depth against the dangerous Len. Justin Anderson got the start at the 4, and even played the 5 when Bennett went small (with Akil Mitchell seeing primary duty). The team successfully implemented a strategy of denying Len the ball and double-teaming him away from the basket when he did touch it. The Maryland star finished with just 9 points on 3 of 6 shooting and struggled to find open shooters when doubled.
The Hoos got off to an early nine-point lead; though Maryland almost scratched back late in the first half after Akil Mitchell went to the bench with two quick fouls, UVA held its lead to six at halftime and never looked back. Joe Harris made a layup to start the second period, and the team never led by less than eight points until Alex Len scored with under a minute to play to cut the lead to seven.
Second half offense didn't always come easily against a Maryland press that bothered UVA on both sides of the ball. Though the Hoos had shown improvement against full court pressure earlier this season, the team struggled to get across half-court, turning the ball over and failing to set their defense, leading to easier UMD points. Not every team has the depth and personnel to bring a persistent press, but those that do should be able to continue to bother the Hoos.
Virginia actually had one of its poorer defensive outings, allowing 69 points in 65 possessions against a shooting-challenged Maryland team. Ten different Terps got in on the scoring, as UVA's small lineups didn't always effectively shut down UMD dribble drives. Additionally, Bennett seemed to make a rare decision to sacrifice defense for shooting prowess at times based on some of his lineup choices - Teven Jones, Taylor Barnette, Paul Jesperson, Joe Harris, and Evan Nolte aren't a formidable squad to run offense against, but its one with five shooters who could knock down threes.
Terp fans jeered Justin Anderson whenever he touched the ball, remembering his de-commitment from Maryland in favor of Virginia after the retirement of Gary Williams. Their chants of "We don't need you" didn't seem prescient; Justin finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds, provided a first-half spark for the team, and came up huge playing the 5 on defense. Anderson could've improved his shot selection, finishing 5 of 14 from the field, but was one of the few Cavaliers able to create his own shot.
Maryland is one of the nation's top offensive rebounding teams; somehow, the undersized Cavaliers beat the Terps on the boards, rebounding 68% of UMD misses to Maryland's 65% of UVA misses. The stat is a testament to Anderson and Mitchell's outstanding efforts as well the effectiveness of one of the Packline defense's strengths.
Akil Mitchell added 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting, and Evan Nolte finished with 8. Taylor Barnette saw some playing time, making one of his two three-point shots. Jontel Evans didn't have his best offensive game, making some questionable decisions that led to four of the team's 16 turnovers. Maryland entered the game 343rd in the nation in defensive TO%, so UVA's turning the ball over on a quarter of possessions was disappointing (and makes the team's 80 points even more impressive).
Darion Atkins returned and played 7 minutes - this followed the team's plan to ease Atkins back into the game in shorter bursts. With Tobey sidelined indefinitely with mono, the Hoos will need his size and athleticism.
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was puzzled with his team's performance, as he sought out exterior reasons for UVA's strong shooting. "I want to give Virginia most of the credit. I want everybody to understand that. But we weren't there today," Turgeon told the Baltimore Sun
. "We bounced around with the snow. There was a wreck on the highway. Haven't had a bye. [Virginia's players] were home sleeping. You look around the country, teams get tired. Maybe we were tired."
In March of 2011, newly hired football coach Randy Edsall took the floor of the Comcast Center and decreed, "Here at Maryland, we don't lose to Virginia." Since that announcement, UVA has won 4 straight basketball games against Maryland.
The Hoos have a short turnover to prepare for their next game, as Virginia Tech visits John Paul Jones Arena on Tuesday. UVA won the first matchup 74-58 in Blacksburg and must avoid a letdown against the dangerous Erick Green and the not-as-dangerous other Hokies and the quite welcoming VT defense. That game tips off at 7 PM and will be televised by ESPNU - it will not be available on ESPN3.