Swept Away: Role Players Help Roll Maryland

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UVa’s Tunji Soroye delivered a career-high 11 rebounds against Maryland.

College Park, MD – Mamadi Diane ‘s lay-up 3:17 into the game gave the Cavaliers a 10-8 lead over Maryland that they never relinquished. Still, the Terrapins made it interesting late when they cut a 15-point deficit to two in the final moments before Tunji Soroye sealed the deal with his 11th rebound and an icing free throw.

It sure was fitting that Hoos not named J.R. Reynolds or Sean Singletary helped push the team into the early lead and wrapped up the win late. Why? Because Virginia’s role players kept coming up big all night in what was a key storyline of the Cavs’ 69-65 win.

The Cavaliers improved to 16-6 overall and gained sole possession of first place in the ACC with an 8-2 mark. The Hoos have won seven straight league games overall and three straight on the road.

“It may not show for Tunji in terms of the amount of points he scored but he had a lot of big blocks and a lot of big rebounds in crucial times,” said Diane. “He came up big and Adrian [Joseph] knocked down some big shots down the stretch.”

Soroye’s final stat line is pretty impressive. Three points, career-high 11 rebounds, four blocked shots, a steal, and an assist. Assistant coach Steve Seymour had been encouraging Soroye to play with more intensity and not think so much about his play. Soroye says that’s exactly what he did.

“This game I didn’t think about anything I just wanted to go out and play hard,” said Soroye.

That effort was not lost on head coach Dave Leitao.

“Big time effort by Tunji,” said Leitao. “I could see it when he went in five minutes into the game that he had extra spring in his legs.”

Adrian Joseph dropped in 13 points in the win.

Indeed, it was a big-time effort for the Cavaliers’ role players. In securing its seventh consecutive league win for the first time since the early 1980s, it was clearly a night for Sean Singletary ‘s and J.R. Reynolds’ sidekicks to steal the show. Sure UVa’s sensational backcourt made their contributions, but it was Jason Cain, Laurynas Mikalauskas , Joseph, Diane, and Soroye (especially in the first half) that was the difference.

Players not named Singletary or Reynolds combined for 22 of Virginia’s 41 first half points, 12 of the Hoos’ 22 boards, five assists, four blocked shots, and a steal. Tied at eight, Diane started a 13-2 run that led to a double-digit advantage at 21-10. The Cavaliers would post their largest lead in the half with 6:19 left on a Joseph jumper.

Maryland battled back to cut the gap to eight but a crowd silencing 3-pointer by Reynolds with 3:52 left in the half stopped a 6-0 Terp run. In the end, Virginia shot 51.5% from the field in the first half while holding Maryland to just 36% on 13-of-36 shooting. That produced a 41-31 lead at the break.

“In the first half, Virginia played harder than us,” said Terrapin head coach Gary Williams. “They played hard the first 10 minutes of the second half and we played hard the last 10 minutes.”

The two squads opened the second half trading baskets. But Virginia managed to add to its halftime lead when Joseph nailed a huge 3 from the right wing to give the Cavaliers their biggest lead of the game at 15 points.

Maryland however would not go away. In fact, the Terps finally seemed to sense the urgency of their dilemma and picked up the defensive energy.

D.J. Strawberry converted a Singletary turnover into a lay-up and that cut the Virginia lead to nine. Mike Jones got the 17,950 in attendance at the Comcast Center believing in another College Park come-from-behind win over the Hoos, draining one from behind the arc off a Cain turnover to narrow the gap to six.

UVa was stuck in a scoring drought and that put a Cavalier win in doubt. The Terrapins held the visitors scoreless for over five minutes while delivering a 9-0 run. Reynolds’s lay-up with 7:06 remaining pushed the margin back up to eight and stopped the bleeding momentarily, but the hosts seemed energized and ready to pounce.

“I kept telling the team we’ve got to be poised,” said Leitao. “I thought defensively we were solid enough but we started to spring a leak mid-way through the second half. We combined it with turning the ball over consecutively which was what I was trying to avoid against a team that can go on a lot of runs.”

Another turnover plagued Virginia again as a steal on a lazy pass by Singletary led to a breakaway flush for Mike Jones to drop the margin to four with less than six minutes remaining. That’s when Cain came up huge with a momentum-thwarting block that might have been the game-saving play. The Terps came up with a loose ball and had a chance to cut the lead to two Greivis Vasquez leaked out and appeared to have an uncontested lane to the basket.

Jason Cain’s block might have been the “game-saving” play.

However, Cain produced a big block by hustling down the court and deflecting Vasquez’s lay-up attempt off the glass. Reynolds followed with a floater from the baseline to again put the Cavaliers ahead by six.

Maryland had one final push in its collective tank, though. The Terps cut the lead to three (once on a Strawberry dunk), two, and one in the final minute. But Soroye once again responded. He made two free throws to push the lead to 65-60 before Hayes’ 3 and one more to ice the victory at the line in the final seconds. Diane also hit a key free throw in the closing moments.

After the game, a very proud coach Leitao praised his junior center.

“He hadn’t been playing a lot and he had been a little down. I’m proud of him,” said Leitao. “He’s come through a lot and had to persevere through so many different things to get to this point and I’m just happy that he can get some kind of reward like he got today.”

Of course, it wasn’t all about the role players. Reynolds probably hit the two biggest free throws of the night. Following a Maryland timeout, James Gist nailed two free throw attempts to draw the Terps within one. Off the inbound Maryland immediately fouled Reynolds putting the senior Cavalier guard on the line for a one-and-one session with just 11 seconds to go. Reynolds calmly swished both attempts to push the lead back up to three at 68-65.

Leitao said he was confident Reynolds would take care of business in crunch time.

J.R. Reynolds led the team in scoring and made two crucial free throws late in the game.

“I bank on those guys,” Leitao explained. “Not just because they’re good skill guys with great touches but you have to mentally make free throws more than have a touch at that point in the game. I feel as secure as any coach could possible feel at the end of game situations with the ball in Sean and J.R.’s hands.”

Jones led the Terps with 18 points and Vasquez posted 13, but was held scoreless in the second half.

For the seventh time in the last nine games, Reynolds paced the Cavaliers with 21 points and added five rebounds. Singletary recorded 10 points, his worst scoring production since a seven-point outing in Virginia’s December 21 contest against Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. He did contribute eight boards and two assists.

But the biggest key was the play of Virginia’s “other” guys. Cain posted six points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots – including the big momentum-stopper. Diane scored eight points and added two blocks, while Joseph netted 13 points. Plus, there was Soroye’s line as well.

Leitao says that’s what it takes to win tough contest on the road.

“Sean didn’t have an ‘A’ game but you’re going to need team wins sometimes if you’re going to keep winning especially in a tough environment like this.” Leitao said.

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