By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Jan. 16 -- John Paul Jones Arena was nearly silent early in the second half when Maryland's Greivis Vasquez pumped his fist and Ekene Ibekwe waved a towel from the bench. The Terrapins had just cut a 20-point deficit to three, crawling back into a game that had looked lost. But that was as close as the Terrapins got in Tuesday's 103-91 loss to Virginia.
Their defense was too porous early, and their offense was too erratic in the second half. Excessive foul trouble, which forced Maryland to employ a zone defense, was yet another factor that proved too difficult to overcome.
"It takes a lot out of you," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said of his team's scramble to rally.
Despite a 15-4 record, Maryland finds itself in a hole in the conference with a 1-3 ACC record. A larger problem may be that the Terrapins, who have won a total of four ACC road games the past two seasons, will play three of their next four games on the road, the next being Sunday at Virginia Tech.
The victory, meantime, was critical for a Virginia team that had lost three straight and six consecutive meetings against Maryland. The Cavaliers (10-6, 2-2) improved their record at their new home to 9-1, but not without some anxious moments.
"You can't take your foot off the gas pedal," Virginia Coach Dave Leitao said, "and I think we did mentally."
Much of the attention entering the game focused on Virginia's talented back court of Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds, but it was Mamadi Diane, the former DeMatha High standout, who proved a key player, scoring a career-high 26 points. Singletary and Reynolds, however, combined to shoot 26 free throws, two more than Maryland attempted. The Terrapins were called for 31 fouls and three players fouled out.
When Virginia's Jason Cain followed Diane's missed shot with a dunk, it gave the Cavaliers a commanding 50-30 lead with 2 minutes 30 seconds remaining in the first half. Much of the announced crowd of 14,765 was on its feet. That's when Maryland's most enthusiastic player, Vasquez, started the Terrapins' rally. Vasquez scored eight points in a 31-second span, and Maryland scored 10 points in a 50-second span to cut the lead to seven by halftime and leave Virginia on its heels heading to the locker room.
The run started when Vasquez rebounded D.J. Strawberry's missed free throw and converted a layup. Virginia then inbounded the ball to Reynolds, but the usually sure-handed senior dribbled the ball off his foot. It wound up in the hands of Vasquez, who buried a three-pointer from the corner without hesitation. Twenty seconds later, Vasquez sank another three-pointer, this one even farther behind the three-point line.
"I am learning this is hard," said Vasquez, who scored 17 points. "I thought we had a chance to win."
It was a disastrous first half for Maryland. Virginia made twice the number of free throws (18) that Maryland attempted. And every Maryland starter had at least two fouls. But as both teams headed into the locker room, it was the Terrapins who had the momentum.
"There was a sense of urgency," Maryland's James Gist said. "We were back in the game and did what we had to do. But it did not work out."
Maryland got off to an inauspicious start when Strawberry picked up his second foul a little more than eight minutes into the game, which forced Williams to leave his two freshmen, Vasquez and Eric Hayes, on the floor against one of the nation's better back courts. The Cavaliers outscored Maryland by eight points while Strawberry sat for nearly four minutes.
Trailing by 19 in the first half, Maryland found itself in a desperate situation. So even though his three best players, Strawberry, Mike Jones and Ibekwe, each had two fouls, Williams decided to show some full-court pressure defense. The press had only limited success in the first half against a Virginia team that continued to pour in points.
Singletary made only two field goals in the first half, but one was a 27-footer. Reynolds also made only two first-half field goals, but he also made 9 of 10 free throws in the half.
Williams said there are a lot of factors that contribute to foul trouble, adding, "It can be Virginia. It can be Maryland. It can be -- " He never finished the sentence.