Heading into the imposing confines Xfinity Center in College Park went about as everyone expected it would as the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers took on the No. 24 Maryland Terrapins. The Maryland fans are notorious for their, umm, not-so-nice demeanor, and the Hoos expected a little extra vitriol as they played in their first true road game of the season.
“They’ll probably be wearing black and gold,” Guy said of Virginia’s meeting with former ACC rival Maryland when asked at ACC Media Day in October. “That’ll be the theme for that one. I’m excited for it.”
He was close. Maryland did wear black—they had a special “blackout” theme for the game—and the fans were committed to reminding the Cavaliers at every opportunity about last year’s historic loss to UMBC in the NCAA tournament. One group of students held a sign that read “Hoo Loses to a 16 Seed” and a blown up picture of Guy doubled over at mid-court as the Retrievers celebrated behind him. You know, the one he still has as his Twitter avatar:
Well, Guy went off for 15 points in the first half on 5-for-8 shooting (4-for-7 from three) and finished with 18 points in the game after hitting his fifth three of the game in the second half.
“Before the game they [the students] were showing me selfies of me and my fiancé trying to get in my head, and they had the sign of me on my knees at half court and stuff so, that’s their fault,” Guy said after the win, a smile on his face.
The game was hyped up by Maryland for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and as a huge opportunity against one of the consistently better teams in the country in Virginia. Guy and company knew exactly what they were going to get coming into College Park.
“We saw their ‘Men in Black’ video and the blackout and a couple people had UMBC jerseys and whatnot,” Guy said. “It comes with the territory, so we were just happy to get a win.”
Ty Jerome has a little bit different of a take on all the Retriever harassment. “We’re going to get that all year, everywhere we go the UMBC stuff,” Jerome stated. “To be honest, it’s kind of played out. It’s a little corny. I feel like instead of joking about it, respect UMBC for beating us because they’re one of the three teams to do it in the last year and...almost year and a quarter now. It’s kind of played out.”
Virginia’s players embrace the challenge of playing on the road, and the louder the fans, the more fun they have. “I actually love road games,” De’Andre Hunter said after the game. “I love road games a lot. Playing in a different place, going against fans like this that have a lot to say...it’s just fun, honestly.”
The evidence backs Hunter’s claim. Virginia went 31-2 (including the ACC tournament) before the NCAA tournament last season, losing just one game on the road (by seven at West Virginia). The Hoos went a perfect 9-0 on the road in conference, getting wins over Virginia Tech, Duke, Florida State, Miami, and one pretty memorable one over Louisville. Last season, Hunter even played better on the road, averaging 13.4 points in away ACC games to just 8.1 points per game at home.
Coach Bennett knows that what his team can do on the road is something special. “It takes something [to get a road win in the Challenge], especially the first time,” Bennett said to the media post game. “I’d like to say the Bahamas was a road trip, but I don’t think it was. It was a road trip, but it wasn’t an away game with that many fans that, umm, are so polite all game.”
The coaching and preparation has helped Virginia succeed on the road, but the players set the tone on the court. As the Hoos shot free throws down the stretch, the Virginia players were visibly relaxed.
“[It] definitely comes from the coaching staff, how we practice, but most of all from our experience,” Guy said of the Hoos’ calm demeanor. “Even Kihei [Clark] has a good demeanor about him, but when he sees us, sees that we’re not wavered...it’s four points, but it feels like 10 to us because we know we can get a stop or we know we can get a bucket so that helps a lot.”
Clark, who has excelled so far this season, has played 36 minutes per game in the two back-to-back matchups against top-25 competition in Wisconsin and Maryland. His stat line? Nine points, seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, and no turnovers. Against the Terps, the Hoos had just two turnovers as a team, both on illegal screen calls on offense. That kind of ball control—combined with hot shooting—will make the Hoos an even more formidable foe going forward.
Virginia has just one more road game—at South Carolina on December 19—until ACC play gets underway in January. With the experience on the court, the Hoos could be set up to have another successful run through the away gauntlet in conference.
“When the place gets loud, I just try and calm everyone down,” Jerome said. “We have played a bunch of road games now—last year at Duke, last year at Louisville, last year at Florida State—and those places really went crazy down the stretch. Now, me, Jack, Dre, Kyle, Mamadi...we’re used to it by now so it’s our job to kind of calm the new guys down.”
The Hoos return to the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena on Monday (December 3) as they host Morgan State at 7pm.