Postgame notes: Defensive mistakes proved costly

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mike Tobey was the third option. After Coach Mark Turgeon surveyed the landscape and called Maryland’s final timeout with 6.9 seconds left in regulation, his Terrapins clinging to a 54-52 lead after wasting a 17-point first-half lead, Virginia stuck with its four-man stack along the free-throw line. Justin Anderson took the inbounds on the near sideline. No one guarded the passer.

Anderson took the ball from the referee. Akil Mitchell, third in the stack, shot up and then bolted to the rim off a back screen from Joe Harris. Point guard Jontel Evans moved next, the safety valve springing to midcourt. After screening for Mitchell, Harris curled to the near corner, brushing off Tobey’s shoulder. But Jake Layman, who spent the entire possession with his back to Anderson, picked up Virginia’s leading scorer and trailed him along the three-point line.

That left Tobey, a freshman center who averages 6.5 points per game off the bench this season. He sealed Alex Len at the mid-post. Len, who finished with two blocks and has appeared on plenty of published ballots for the all-ACC defensive team, tried to reach over the top for a steal.

(Apologies for the grainy screenshot. Blame this hotel’s bandwidth. The key part is Len reaching over the top for the steal rather than staying home.)

The ball squirted past Len and Tobey slipped to the hoop. Dez Wells’s help defense didn’t actually help. Tobey was already at the rim, sending the game into overtime.

“We literally didn’t make a good decision at the end with 6.9 to go,” Turgeon said. “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.”

That late Turgeon timeout, called immediately after Virginia set up in its four-man stack, was Maryland’s last of regulation. Without it, the Terps had no plan for a last-second possession after presumably spending the entire timeout worrying about defense. So Pe’Shon Howard drove the length of the floor, right to the spot he found against North Carolina State, before Anderson blocked his running shot. Tobey also managed to coax Len into tapping back the game-winning shot in overtime, a putback credited to Virginia in the end.

Turgeon heaped praise on Howard, Wells, and Nick Faust for limiting the “unbelievably good” Harris to 15 points on 4 of 18 shooting, but noted a key defensive breakdown on Harris’s three-pointer with 1:37 left in regulation that tied the score at 52, capping Virginia’s second-half comeback.

“We knew they’d come back on us, and they did,” Turgeon said. “In the end, we just couldn’t get enough stops.”

>> Turgeon’s 14th different lineup this season and 12th in ACC play stormed to a 14-6 lead through the opening six minutes and 30 seconds. For the first time all year, Turgeon started a four-guard lineup of Faust, Howard, Wells and Layman alongside Len. The Terps emerged from the chute with a diamond full-court press that transitioned into a 1-3-1 zone, something Bennett said he hadn’t seen from Maryland all season.

The defensive switch baffled Virginia early as Maryland sprung to a double-digit lead at the 12:58 mark, and the four-guard lineup shredded the Cavaliers’ ACC-leading defense with crisp passing and open looks. After missing layups on their first two possessions, the Terps got consecutive corner three-pointers from Layman and Faust. Following the under-16 TV timeout, the same perimeter-heavy lineup went on an 8-0 run that included an and-one dunk from Layman, another three from Faust and a transition layup from Wells off a Cavaliers turnover.

>> Shaq Cleare logged Maryland’s first DNP-CD this season that wasn’t discipline-related.

“Yeah, that wasn’t a conscious effort,” Turgeon said. “Small was working for us; things were rolling. I love Shaq. Got to the second half, actually needed him in there, but I thought it was too late to put him in. Shaq will play, whenever our next game is. He might start, depending on who we’re playing.”

That would be Thursday at 7 p.m. against Wake Forest in Greensboro, N.C. during the ACC tournament’s first round.

>> Howard got whistled for Maryland’s second technical foul this season (Seth Allen against IUPUI) with 15:56 left in the second half after a nifty reverse layup by Len along the baseline. Press row was too far to hear anything, but the consensus among Twitter readers seemed to be that Howard barked something at the Virginia student section and got T’ed up for it. The official explanation was “unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Harris made both free throws off the technical, and Virginia went on an 8-1 run that chopped Maryland’s lead to single digits.

(Weird stat time: North Carolina and Virginia are the only ACC teams without a technical foul this season. North Carolina State’s C.J. Leslie leads the league with three.)

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 11, 2013