Seth Allen waited and waited as the shot clock ticked down, patience from the Maryland point guard who just wanted to make something happen. Soon, center Shaq Cleare bolted near mid-court and set a hard screen on Allen’s defender. Allen danced free down the left side at Comcast Center, on a beeline toward the hoop. But when help came, he whipped a pass underneath the basket to Dez Wells in the opposite corner. As the buzzer rang, the three-pointer was dropping through the net.
It was a perfectly executed sequence for the Terrapins on Saturday against Florida State, showing the kind of discipline that has eluded them so often during this frustrating season, the kind they will need in abundance Monday night at Virginia. If restraint and fortitude continue to be an issue, few teams can take advantage better than the No. 20 Cavaliers.
Virginia ranks second in the ACC, its only loss coming by four points at Duke on Jan. 13. During its current seven-game winning streak, a host of lesser teams have been scorched by Coach Tony Bennett’s diverse cast of role players, tormented by his motion offense and crumbled underneath the nation’s second most efficient defense.
“I do think this is the best defensive team we’ll play so far,” Coach Mark Turgeon said on a teleconference Sunday. “Pittsburgh’s been really good but I don’t know if they have the depth that Virginia has. They’ll really challenge us. We’ll play either way, but I don’t know what they’re averaging. I imagine they’re scoring a little bit more than they did last year, but their defense is probably playing at a better rate.”
In fact, Virginia has gotten only slightly faster and still ranks 339th nationally in adjusted tempo, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy. But no statistic better reveals its success than, ironically enough, the low scoring numbers of Joe Harris. Once a preseason all-ACC selection, Harris has averaged just 10 points over the past four games. But the Cavs don’t need him filling up box scores. They have too many contributors to demand that.
Freshman point guard London Perrantes averages 3.6 assists per game. Guard Malcolm Brogdon shoots 43.5 percent from the field, 40.5 percent on three-pointers and 90.3 percent from the free throw line. Forward Akil Mitchell will make a case for the ACC defensive player of the year and forward Mike Tobey played for Team USA at the U-19 world championships last summer. And that’s without mentioning Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, who average over 17 points between the two of them.
But the Cavaliers needed overtime to beat Maryland at John Paul Jones Arena last season, and since the Terps also face Duke and Syracuse over the next two weeks, any victory against a ranked opponent would improve their postseason prospects. They know the magnitude of games like this.
“It’s hard,” said Allen, who scored a career-high 32 points against the Seminoles. “We’ve got a tough schedule coming up. We’ve got at Virginia, at Duke, here Wake Forest, here Syracuse. That’s three top 25 teams in a row. It’s tough to build but we’re not going to dwell on this. We play Monday. We have to build on this and keep building defensively from this win.”
The two-day turnaround means Maryland will have to rely even more on its basic instincts rather than a concrete game plan. Even if Turgeon had a week to install Virginia’s motion offense, he said, the Terps still wouldn’t be able to properly simulate the complexities and precision.
So the past 24 hours have been spent recovering and watching film to receive a brief introduction to the Cavaliers. When the 9 p.m. tip-off rolls around – delayed two hours because of President Barack Obama’s visit to the area – the Terps will be left to their own devices, for better or worse.
“We had to play guys so many minutes yesterday, we really don’t have a lot of time to prepare,” Turgeon said. ‘It’s more we’re going to do what we do, they’re going to do what they do.”