Postgame: Terps come up empty-handed in Charlottesville

CHARLOTTESVILLE — They drove south seeking redemption, one last regular-season opportunity to atone for months of roller-coaster inconsistencies, to march into the postseason fueled by a gritty road win. Instead, the Maryland basketball team garbage-compacted its entire year into a single tumultuous evening at John Paul Jones Arena. Everything, from the hot start to a detrimental disappearing act, felt painfully familiar.

In the drab remnants of a 61-58 overtime loss to Virginia, the Terrapins again found solace in their effort after scrapping together a 17-point lead midway through the first half and almost becoming the first team since Nov. 13 to topple the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. But “almost” has defined Coach Mark Turgeon’s second year, when a 13-game winning streak gave way to a sub-.500 ACC record for the third straight season and has Maryland tumbling into the conference tournament as the seventh seed on a two-game slide, capped off by its most torturous collapse yet.

A single defensive breakdown off an inbounds set with 6.9 seconds remaining in regulation allowed Mike Tobey to slip past Alex Len for a game-tying layup. Down two points in overtime after a put-back credited to Tobey that Len actually tipped in, the Terps had four possessions to tie or take the lead. They wound up with a deep three-pointer from Nick Faust, consecutive turnovers and a potentially game-tying three from Dez Wells.

“But those are the only two guys who could make a play for us down the stretch,” Turgeon said of Faust and Wells, who combined for 27 points. “I’ll keep saying it. I’m proud of our effort. I hate coming up short …We’re growing up. We just haven’t grown up all the way to do that.”

Wells, who scored Maryland’s last six points, including a monstrous coast-to-coast dunk in the extra period, fell to the hardwood while his last-second shot rimmed out. He thought it was good. Faust did too. But expectations again failed to align with a painful reality for these Terps, whose once-crisp offense fell off a cliff after intermission as Virginia began to chip away.

“We felt like we should have been down by a lot more than that,” Guard Joe Harris said of Virginia’s 32-19 halftime deficit.

Maryland missed early opportunities to blow its regular-season finale wide open, but still displayed smart offensive decision-making that forced the Cavaliers from their relentless double-teams down low. At the under-8 media timeout, Faust had outscored Virginia by himself, 13-12.

Except the sophomore netted just one field goal after halftime, a gutsy step-back baseline jumper that made it 52-49. On the other end, however, poor ball-screen defense led to a wing three-pointer from Harris, which knotted the game at 52, the first tie since it was 6-6. Overtime brought similar confounding sequences and Maryland finished the game shooting 25 percent (8 of 32) in the second half and overtime.

With their March Madness chances zapped, save perhaps through an ACC tournament championship, still searching for what Turgeon called a “quality road win to put in the bank over the summer,” the Terps will again return to College Park empty-handed.

“I kept telling our guys, I want it to be tough,” Turgeon said. “I want us to grind out a tough, tough win. And we just came up short. We literally didn’t make a good decision at the end with 6.9 to go. I think it would have been hard for Tobey to score over Alex in that situation. Come up with a rebound and the game’s over. But we didn’t. We got to learn from it. But I feel a lot better about my team right now than I did five hours ago. A lot better.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | March 10, 2013