Akil Mitchell led Virginia with 17 points and 10 boards.
Despite some shaky first half defense, poor shooting, and missed free throws throughout, Virginia found a way to topple Maryland on Sunday at the John Paul Jones Arena. It took overtime, but the 61-58 victory extended the Cavaliers’ home winning streak to 17 games as they overcame a 17-point deficit on Senior Night in Charlottesville.
After the game, the Hoos exhaled and talked about winning a close one without their best offense on display.
“Yeah [I’m happy to win on Senior Night], especially with a win like this. We showed a lot of grit,” said Jontel Evans , who celebrated a Senior Night win. “We were really hard-nosed and we were really physical and tough on both ends of the floor in the second half and we came out with the W.”
“We knew we played poorly [in the first half]. We didn’t give enough effort on both ends. They had too many transition lay-ups. Everything just kind of came easy for them,” Virginia junior Joe Harris said. “We talked about the effort and how that stuff was not there. That was one of the focal points that we focused on at half. But we also talked about remaining calm and poised. We felt like we were in a good position. It could have been a lot worse. We probably should have been down 20 or so.”
Whatever was discussed during the break, UVa climbed out of a 13-point halftime hole thanks to a stalwart effort on defense. The Cavaliers (21-10, 11-7 ACC) held the Terrapins (20-11, 8-10 ACC) to just 25.9% shooting in the second half and allowed just 1-of-5 shooting (20.0%) in overtime to boot. Only Nick Faust, who led his team with 15 points, had a decent shooting night in the final boxscore; Faust made 5 of 9 attempts but just 1 of 3 shots after the break. Meanwhile, the rest of the Terps connected on just 15 of 52 shots.
Virginia’s defense blocked and challenged a lot of shots in the game and that caused a lot of trouble for the visitors. The hosts eventually posted a season-high 9 blocked shots, including 6 after intermission. Freshman Justin Anderson led the way with a career-high 5 stuffs that tied the JPJ record (Assane Sene had 5 vs. Hampton in 2009). In the end, Anderson recorded 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal to go with those blocks.
While Anderson’s effort on defense helped trigger a tough comeback, biggest assist of the night came on a sideline inbounds play with 6.9 seconds to go in regulation. The Cavs trailed 54-52 as they exited back-to-back timeouts with the ball on the side opposite of the team benches. Anderson surveyed through three options before he delivered a seeing-eye bounce pass to Mike Tobey as Maryland’s Alex Len tried to slide around to deflect the entry. Tobey sealed off Len, caught the pass, and made the short shot to send the game to overtime after Anderson blocked the final shot attempt of regulation on the other end.
“It’s got actually three options. We checked on the first one. It wasn’t there. The second one wasn’t there. [Mike] is the third option,” Bennett said. “Just kind of like a quarterback, Justin, I thought, made a terrific pass. They played it a certain way to take away the corner three so that opened up a position. He sealed it, and certainly had the touch to make it.”
“I caught it and he went for it so then I had him on my back. It was kind of an in-between, almost like a floater, kind of weird thing,” Tobey said. “I just used length to kind of make it a lay-up.”
While that late inbounds play proved successful, much of the night was anything but that for UVa’s offense. The Cavaliers made just 21 of 57 shots (36.8%), 4 of 16 3-pointers (25.0%), and 15 of 23 free throws (65.2%). They also tallied just 9 assists with 8 turnovers as fullcourt pressure and rotating defenses knocked the hosts out of rhythm early.
Harris struggled to find his touch for most of the contest, but still scraped together 15 points. He made just 4 of 18 shots and 2 of 7 triples in 40 minutes of action. His biggest shot of the night came with 1:37 to go in regulation when he dribbled to his left and canned a long pull-up 3-pointer to tie the game at 52-52.
Fortunately, the Cavaliers’ post players helped offset the tough shooting night. Counting the bucket that forced overtime, Tobey recorded 13 points and 6 rebounds on 5-of-8 shooting. Junior Akil Mitchell led the team with 17 points, 13 after intermission. Mitchell finished with his 11th double-double of the season as he also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Those two played the majority of the post minutes in the second half after the Hoos once again started Anderson at the power forward slot. Tobey logged 17 of his 26 minutes during the second half and overtime, while Mitchell played 23 of 25 minutes available after halftime. Tobey and Mitchell snared just 2 rebounds each in the first half when Maryland dominated the boards 24-12, but the duo combined for 12 rebounds in the second half when UVa won the board battle 28-20 (the Terps won the category 44-40 for the game thanks to the strong first half). That helped Virginia post 10 much-needed second-chance points after the half. That included the game’s decisive bucket with 1:47 left in overtime when Tobey and Len both jumped for the rebound and it tipped into the basket for a 60-58 Cavalier lead.
“They’re fourth in the country in rebounding, best in the ACC. We also played mostly two bigs,” Bennett said. “I just thought we needed to play an inside-out game, we needed to be more physical, we needed to have a chance on the glass and sometimes, obviously, size just does that. I thought our guys realized [that] we were playing too much of a fringe game in the first half and we were a little rattled with their pressure. … It was an inside-outside game [after halftime and] we tried to be more physical and intentional about that.”
The Wahoos claimed the No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament with the win. That means they have a first-round bye on Thursday before they meet the NC State-Virginia Tech winner on Friday at 2 p.m.