Tony Bennett slammed his coat to the floor in frustration, which led to a technical foul with 38 seconds remaining in a one-point game.
When Virginia men’s basketball followers looked forward to the team’s contest against Maryland, few could have expected much drama. The Terrapins, tied for first place in the conference, could ill afford a bad loss to end the season; the Cavaliers entered as the losers of eight straight games, the last six by double figures. Even on Senior Day in Charlottesville, another ho-hum double-digit Virginia loss appeared all too predictable.
That could not have been further from the truth.
What Cavalier fans witnessed instead was the indefinite suspension of Sylven Landesberg announced just hours before tip-off, an improbable comeback from a 14-point deficit even without Landesberg, and the first technical foul of coach Tony Bennett’s career with less than a minute remaining in a game that still hung in the balance. As the Hoos walked off the floor with a 74-68 defeat, they were certainly disheartened, but also left wondering what in the heck had just happened.
“I hope you guys’ deadlines are late tonight so you get a lot of time [to write],” Will Sherill joked with reporters after the game.
Landesberg was suspended for the remainder of the team’s games this season. Landesberg “failed to live up to his academic obligations,” according to a statement released before the game – Bennett later said that Landesberg had violated his own rules, not those of the University. Players said that Bennett informed the team of this decision at 10 a.m., just prior to the team’s shoot-around. Landesberg’s future beyond this season remains uncertain.
“That was a hard decision,” Bennett said. “We know the value he has to our team. He is a good kid, and that was a difficult decision. But, there are some expectations and standards that have to be adhered to. It was a hard decision, it was, but I hope that it helps. It was not easy to do considering the circumstances, but again, there are expectations and consequences to those. There’s a big picture; we’re really trying to establish this program with the right kinds of things for the present, for the future, and really trying to build it. When you come to school at the University of Virginia, there are some opportunities and expectations that, when they’re not met, action is taken, and we want the young men on to understand: when we say things we mean them.”
“I really hope [Landesberg] will come back,” Sherill said. “He’s a great friend of mine, he’s a great teammate, and I’m going to talk to him probably this afternoon to try to pick his head up. I’m going to do everything I can to get him to come back, because I love the guy like a brother.”
Without Landesberg, it seemed that the Hoos’ fate against Maryland was sealed – but that was hardly the case. By game’s end, Landesberg’s suspension seemed like a distant memory.
If anything, Virginia played better without Landesberg as it made a late-second half rally. Trailing 53-41 with just more than 11 minutes remaining in the second half, the Hoos’ shooters found some rare life, and Virginia clawed back to a 66-65 margin with less than a minute remaining.
That is when the referees intervened. Maryland’s Sean Mosley drove from the right wing into the lane. Virginia senior Jerome Meyinsse – who had a monstrous game offensively, scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting – stepped up to take a charge, and Mosley barreled into Meyinsse in the middle of the lane. Meyinsse, though, was called for a blocking foul in a close play.
“I thought I was there, but the call didn’t go our way,” Meyinsse said.
Bennett, furious with the call, stormed out to near midcourt and ripped off his jacket and spiked it to the floor. He quickly retreated to the bench, but referee Jamie Lucky then whistled Bennett for a technical foul with 38 seconds on the clock – the first technical of Bennett’s four-year career as a head coach.
Greivis Vasquez knocked in his 22nd and 23rd points of the night on the free throws for the technical, and Mosley converted both of his free throws on the shooting foul to give Maryland a five-point lead.
Lucky was questioned by long-time UVa beat writer Doug Doughty after the game about the technical, and Lucky reportedly said, “It was an unsportsmanlike technical foul, that’s all I can say.” As the final buzzer sounded, Bennett continued barking at Lucky before shaking hands with the Terps and jogging into the locker room – “I wanted some clarification,” Bennett said.
“It wasn’t a good time to get the first technical foul of my career – that’s for sure,” Bennett said. “Honestly, I saw the referee wasn’t looking and I was just so frustrated. I took my jacket off and threw it down – I didn’t think he was looking. But, it was a mistake to take my jacket off and throw it down like that, I shouldn’t. But, I’ve got to see the call, there was a lot of activity. There was a lot of emotion from both coaches, and it’s just the heat of the battle.
“But, I feel bad for our kids. They were going to the line with two shots; they make both, we still have a chance to tie it. Who knows – if they miss them both, make one, we have a chance to either send it to overtime or win it. I really feel, because those kids battled hard tonight.”
On the previous Maryland possession, a close block-charge call went Virginia’s way after Vasquez was called for charging into Sherill under the basket. This call came with the new rule in place stating that if a defensive player is positioned under the basket between the backboard and the front of the rim, such a play should automatically be ruled a block. Though Williams didn’t go as far as removing his jacket, he did his fair share of hounding the officials after that call, as well.
“Gary, he was getting into the ref’s ear a lot,” Sherill said.
After the four free throws following Bennett’s technical, the outcome was all but decided. Bennett apologized to his players in the locker room for the technical foul, but several players stood up for Bennett just as their coach had stuck up for them.
“Coach [Bennett] is behind us,” Zeglinski said. “I didn’t have a problem with it, because he’s going to go to war with us. I really like to see that, because he always has our back, and that’s fine with me.”
“A technical foul in the last minute of a one-point game, that’s tough to take,” Sherill said. “We see [Bennett] in practice every day, and he’s a pretty intense guy because he cares so much about this program.”
Jeff Jones scored 16 points against Maryland, including eight points during the Hoos’ second-half comeback.
Between the drama of Landesberg’s suspension and Bennett’s unlikely technical foul was a heck of a basketball game. Maryland secured 14 of the first 15 rebounds on both ends of the floor in the first half, en route to a 38-27 halftime lead. Trailing by as many as 14 in the second half, yet another blowout loss for Virginia seemed inevitable – but, somehow, the Hoos fought back. The comeback started ugly – trailing 53-41 with just more than 11 minutes remaining, Jeff Jones was bailed out by a foul on a contested long two from the top of the key. Jones hit both free throws to cut the lead to 10.
From that point on, though, Virginia looked like a different team than it had in its previous six games. Farrakhan found a cutting Will Sherill off of screening action for a lay-up to cut the deficit to seven. On the Hoos’ next possession, Meyinsse made perhaps his most dazzling move of the season: a spin to his left hand on the baseline from the block for a dunk, which cut the lead still further to five.
Then, Jones – who shot 0 for 3 the last time Landesberg didn’t play against Duke – came alive. Jones hit consecutive catch-and-shoot 3’s early in the shot clock, providing the timely shooting that the Cavaliers desperately needed in Landesberg’s absence.
“I definitely wanted to make up for that Duke game,” Jones said. “I definitely wanted to come out more aggressive. I felt confident – I always feel confident.”
Unfortunately for Virginia, Maryland has an ACC Player of the Year candidate in Vasquez who wasn’t about to let Virginia retake the lead so easily. On three occasions, Vasquez hit a 3-pointer after the Cavaliers had reduced the deficit to three points – a pull-up from the wing, a catch-and-shoot three after relocating on a post entry, and a third triple off a flair screen to the corner. Even when Virginia covered Vasquez when Maryland tried a flair screen to the other side of the floor, he quickly dished to Jordan Williams underneath, who was fouled and hit 1-of-2 free throws.
In all, Vasquez scored 13 of Maryland’s final 20 points.
Jerome Meyinsse made 7 of 8 shots against Maryland.
“What can you say about some of the shots that Greivis hit,” Bennett said. “Every time, he answered, and that is the sign of an elite player. He’s a winner, certainly.”
Unlike many previous games, however, Virginia refused to go away. Meyinsse continued to make his mark on Senior Day, even hitting an in-rhythm jumper from the elbow. Farrakhan clamped down on Vasquez defensively in the last two minutes, forcing two turnovers. Sherill got involved offensively, hitting an enormous 3-ball and running the floor for a transition lay-up that pulled the Hoos within one.
But, with the blow of Lucky’s whistle, Virginia’s hopes of a flourish on Senior Day were dashed. With their ninth straight loss, the Cavaliers fell below .500 for the first time this season as they head to the ACC Tournament.
A statement from Sherill in regard to the technical foul may have summed up the season finale best – both in terms of the call, and the state of the Virginia basketball program as a whole.
“The University of Virginia doesn’t quite have the same level of respect that some of the other programs in the ACC have,” Sherill said. “We just have to go out and get that respect.”