By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010; D01
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- As Virginia Coach Tony Bennett seethed over the first technical foul of his career, senior guard Greivis Vasquez strode over to the Maryland bench and informed his own coach that he would be taking the resulting free throws.
By that point, the Terrapins had let a 14-point lead wither to one as the chokehold John Paul Jones Arena seemed to have had on Maryland in recent years tightened. With 38.6 seconds remaining, Vasquez stood alone at one end of the court and made two free throws.
"That was the game right there," said Vasquez, who finished with a game-high 23 points.
No one on either side disagreed. Maryland held on to defeat Virginia, 74-68, on Saturday, and as a result, the Terrapins (23-7, 13-3) claimed a share of their first regular season ACC title since 2002. The win also marked Maryland's first here since 2006.
For a long stretch during the second half, viewers could have been forgiven for thinking they were watching a replay of last year's regular season finale, when Maryland blew a 13-point lead at Virginia after losing its focus.
On Saturday, the Terrapins seized a commanding first-half lead with a demonstrative showing on the boards. Maryland outrebounded Virginia, 22-10, and outscored the Cavaliers, 17-2, in second-chance points before the intermission.
"It kind of disappeared after halftime," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "We thought we could go after the offensive glass and we did. We scored and we were in good shape, but we weren't playing well overall in the first half, and it caught up with us in the second half. It's the old story: You give someone confidence that they can play with you -- maybe they had some doubts, you know, somewhere in that game -- but once they saw that they could play with us, they went after us."
Virginia (14-15, 5-11) shot 65.2 percent in the second half and allowed the Terrapins to collect only five more second-chance points. Bennett said he tightened his front-court rotation and asked his players to make a more concerted effort to take the ball inside after the break. The Cavaliers shot 53.1 percent on the afternoon, the highest shooting percentage Maryland has allowed this season.
Reserve guard Jeff Jones scored three-pointers on consecutive possessions to pull Virginia within three points of the lead with just less than six minutes remaining in regulation. Virginia spent the next few minutes finding ways to re-cut Maryland's lead to three, and for a while, the Terrapins were able to answer each time.
But a Vasquez turnover with just less than two minutes to play turned into a layup for Virginia's Will Sherrill. Maryland's lead was down to one. Vasquez said he had been attempting a pass to freshman forward Jordan Williams, who was not looking for the ball.
"They almost got us," Vasquez said. "They almost got us crying."
Vasquez noted that the Terrapins "got sloppy at times," and Gary Williams said his team was "probably mentally tired," given the emotional ride of the previous six games.
Those contests -- all wins -- included a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer against Georgia Tech, a double-overtime triumph over Virginia Tech and a close win over No. 4 Duke on Wednesday.
With less than a minute to play, referee Jamie Luckie called a blocking foul on Virginia forward Jerome Meyinsse to the dismay of Bennett, who flung his suit jacket onto the court in a fit of frustration. His team -- riding an eight-game losing streak and playing without its leading scorer, sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg, who was suspended for academic reasons -- was in position to claim an upset, and he didn't think Luckie was looking.
"He must have caught the tail end of that," Bennett said.
Because Duke defeated North Carolina, 82-50, on Saturday night, Maryland will share the regular season ACC championship with the Blue Devils and carry the No. 2 seed into next week's conference tournament. They open the tournament Friday night at 7 against either North Carolina or Georgia Tech.
"We worked hard the whole season to get where we are today," sophomore guard Sean Mosley said. "It's one of them feelings that I'll never forget, winning a regular season ACC title."