CHARLOTTESVILLE – During the second half of Saturday’s game against Maryland, Virginia junior guard Jontel Evans knew his team had accomplished perhaps its most important goal. First he heard Terrapins sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin complaining to the referees. Then he heard another Maryland player do the same. And then another.
“That’s when I knew they was getting kind of frustrated,” Evans said. “I could see it in their body language.”
The Cavaliers imposed their will and rattled their opponent long before the final horn sounded on a 71-44 victory. They had failed to do so in their previous two games, both of which ended in defeat, and Coach Tony Bennett had implored his team to maintain its intensity in practices late this week.
A contest that was tied at halftime ended with Virginia’s largest margin of victory over Maryland since 1989, settling any questions about the Cavaliers’ collective mental toughness, at least for one day.
“Our guys always give effort, but we knew we’d have to ratchet it up or just turn up the volume a little bit more in terms of the intensity from start to finish,” Bennett said. “It just wasn’t an option. . . . I thought our guys did not back down, and that was important for the victory.”
Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer, made 4 of 6 three-point attempts and tallied 14 points in the first half, but he was held scoreless in the second. As a whole, Maryland (15-11, 5-7 ACC) shot 20.8 percent in the second half.
Scott posted 16 points before the break, but between Maryland’s three-point shooting (7 for 13) and Virginia’s inability to provide Scott much help in the scoring department, the score was tied at 31 entering the second half.
“We said: ‘Don’t deviate from the intensity and the commitment on that end because you can come away with this one with your defense. If they can make those [three-point shots] all game, there’s not any defense that can stop that,’ ” Bennett said. “I just kept challenging them to have that intensity from start to finish. From that standpoint, I thought that was significant.”
About five minutes into the second half, Maryland freshman guard Nick Faust (13 points) pushed off on Virginia fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski, who was called for a blocking foul on Faust moments later.
With Bennett and the rest of the Virginia bench infuriated, the Cavaliers led by four entering the media timeout that followed Zeglinski’s foul. It was a moment for Bennett’s players to prove they’d been listening to the message he’d been preaching since Tuesday’s 60-48 loss at Clemson, Virginia’s second straight defeat. He had challenged them repeatedly in practices late this week to regain their mental toughness for the season’s stretch run, to not succumb to fatigue.
Out of the timeout, Zeglinski tallied a steal and drew a foul. Scott scored, was fouled and made the free throw. Zeglinski, who has been mired in a shooting slump that has spanned nearly the entire conference season, made a three-pointer. Guard Joe Harris, playing with a broken left (non-shooting) hand, made a jump shot to cap a 16-0 Virginia run.
Maryland scored 13 points in the second half.
“This team is hungry, and I thought we showed that in the second half with our defensive effort,” Zeglinski said. “Even in the first half we were forcing them into contested shots. In the second half, we just stuck to our game plan, and they didn’t make the same shots, and offensively, we executed.”