Long before No. 5 Virginia watched Maryland students rush the floor in celebration following a 75-69 overtime victory, an ominous sign greeted the Cavaliers as their bus prepared to leave the team hotel outside College Park.
Point guard London Perrantes felt the engine stall before the charter moved an inch. Once it managed to start and turned left out of the hotel driveway, “we heard the engine blow” at a stop sign, sophomore Malcolm Brogdon said. Reserve Teven Jones joked, “Maryland must have done this,” with Virginia seemingly stranded on the side of the road.
Lucky enough, associate head coach Ritchie McKay’s wife and team chaplain George Morris were each following the bus in their own cars. So McKay and seven players — Virginia’s starters and key reserves Justin Anderson and forward Anthony Gill — piled into both vehicles and headed toward Comcast Center for warmups. The rest of the team and its traveling party didn’t arrive until 45 minutes before tip-off.
“Right then and there, we knew it was gonna be a long day,” Perrantes said.
For the first time in 55 days, Virginia failed to beat an ACC foe, and a 13-game winning streak came to an end in its regular season finale. The setback likely will cost the Cavaliers any chance they had at securing one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. They remain the top seed in this week’s ACC tournament and won’t play again until Friday’s quarterfinals after winning the regular season conference title.
But more harmful with the postseason arriving were Virginia’s potential flaws that Maryland exposed in its last home ACC men’s basketball game.
Guards Seth Allen (20 points) and Dez Wells (18 points) provided a template on how to beat the Cavaliers’ normally stingy pack-line defense, knifing into the lane at will with dribble penetration. Virginia, which entered Sunday as the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, allowed more points than it had since an 87-52 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 30.
Maryland finished the game shooting 47.9 percent from the field. Brogdon declared it “a wake-up call.”
“To get exposed a little like that is good for us. . . . We’ll learn from it,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “They had us a little bit in no-man’s land. We weren’t really packed, and we weren’t out there taking passes away.”
For a moment, though, it appeared the Cavaliers would still leave Comcast Center with a win. As Maryland’s student section readied to rush the floor, Brogdon (12 points, seven assists, five rebounds) intentionally missed a free throw with the Terrapins nursing a 64-62 lead.
The ensuing rebound bounced off Wells’s fingertips and out of bounds, giving Virginia one last chance. On the inbounds play, Perrantes lofted a pass to Gill, who extended the game on a basket with 0.5 seconds left.
The Cavaliers ran that set to perfection, but their offense never got going for more than short stretches Sunday. Perrantes kept the score close in the first half with four three-pointers and registered 14 points. Gill chipped in 15 off the bench.
But Virginia hit just nine of its 31 shot attempts (29 percent) in the second half and overtime, and senior Joe Harris (12 points on 3-for-10 shooting) struggled with his outside shot for a second straight game. Wells and Allen took care of the rest.
And so eight days after watching Cavaliers fans storm the court at John Paul Jones Arena — and a few hours after a morning bus malfunction — Virginia had to wade through a sea of red stampeding out of the Comcast Center stands as it pondered how to avoid this fate going forward.
“It’s probably good for us because we forgot what it’s like to lose,” Harris said. “We’ve been riding this high for so long and playing with so much confidence that we forgot this feeling. . . . We hate this, and you don’t want to experience it again.”