By: Eric Myers
Much of the sellout crowd at the Xfinity Center let out a collective sigh as Eric Ayala missed the team’s sixth free throw of the game with just over two minutes remaining, and Maryland trailing by seven points.
That resounding sigh arose once again when Virginia forced a turnover with 54 seconds remaining to prevent Maryland from cutting further into their five-point deficit.
Those missed free throws and turnovers repeatedly took the emerging energy out of the Xfinity Center as Maryland threatened to come all the way back from a 17 point second-half deficit. The miscues, though, proved to be too much to overcome as the No. 24 Terrapins fell 76-71 to the No. 4 Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
“Give [Virginia] credit, they’re terrific. Their hands are great, their length is great and we’re still getting used to each other. We’ve got a young team,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “For us to be a great team, we’ve got to get [the turnovers] down to eight or nine turnovers a game.”
Virginia’s experience-laden lineup remained poised in the face of the raucous crowd, as the Cavaliers committed only two turnovers, which helped limit Maryland’s desire to speed the game up.
“We took care of the ball and I don’t want to minimize that because [Maryland] can get out and run,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “Our ability to only have two turnovers and not give them any loose ball or live ball turnovers, I think was a big score.”
After shooting just 1-6 from the 3-point line in the first half, Maryland’s improved perimeter shooting aided their comeback bid in the second half.
Maryland trailed by 17 points when Turgeon called timeout with over 16 minutes remaining.
Virginia built that 17-point advantage on the strength of prolific perimeter shooting, most notably the performance that Kyle Guy had in the first half and opening moments of the second half. The junior guard scored 18 points in the first 22 minutes of gameplay, and converted five 3-point shots.
After the timeout, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala’s back-to-back 3-pointers created a scoring run and ignited the crowd in College Park.
The Terrapins extended 12-4 scoring run in the span of over five minutes brought the team’s deficit back to single figures at 52-43 with 11 minutes remaining.
“We hit adversity. We didn’t want to quit at the end of the day, we just wanted to keep fighting,” Ayala said.
Two minutes later, Virginia stretched the lead back to 11 after Darryl Morsell committed a turnover and the Cavaliers converted on the other end of the court.
Down the stretch, Maryland battled back into the game with strong shooting from Wiggins, who scored nine second-half points. His mid-range jumper with 3:17 remaining put Maryland within four points of tying the game.
As was the case repeatedly down the stretch, Virginia responded to Maryland’s run. With under 3 minutes left, Ty Jerome buried a 3-point shot that quieted that crowd and halted the home team’s scoring run.
Cowan’s turnover with under a minute to play seemingly ended Maryland’s chances to complete the comeback as Virginia made important free throws in the final minute and did not succumb to the full-court pressure that Turgeon deployed.
“We fought. We just weren’t playing well,” Turgeon said. “We fought, cut it all the way to three [points]. I think that’s a really good sign for us. It’s hard to come back on Virginia.”