It is now time to take Maryland seriously in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Terrapins proved it tonight as, after blowing a seven-point lead in the final two minutes. Ernest Graham sank a 20-foot jump shot with five seconds remaining to give them a 63-61 victory over Virginia.
Not only did the Terrapins raise their ACC record to 7-1, they escaped yet another stigma in this, their season of redemption. Their overall record is 15-3.
"Coach reminded us coming in here tonight that only two guys on the team (John Bilney and David Henderson) had ever beaten Virginia," said Greg Manning, brilliant again with 16 points. "We were thinking about it."
Maryland appeared to be thinking about that five-game losing streak to Virginia as the game came down the stretch tonight.
With Buck Williams outplaying a flu-weakened Ralph Sampson from the beginning and Coach Lefty Driesell using an effective spread offense starting with 10:43 left in the game, the Terps had taken a 60-53 lead on two Manning free throws with 1:41 left and appeared home free.
But the Cavaliers (5-3 ACC, 16-5 in all games) would not quit.
Lee Raker, who suffered through an atrocious (five-of-15) shooting night, finally nailed a jump shot from 10 feet to cut the lead to 60-55 with 1:36 left.
Virginia immediately fouled Reggie Jackson and the 6-foot-4 sophomore missed the first shot in the one-and-one situation. Quickly, the Cavs went back to Raker. His jumper hit the back rim but Sampson, who missed five minutes of the second half with a turned left ankle, flew in for a dunk follow. It was 60-57 with 1:17 left.
During the ensuing timeout, Driesell substituted Dutch Morley for Jackson -- for foul-shooting purposes -- just as he had done against N. C. State, when Morley made two free throws to win the game.
The move looked brilliant when Morley was fouled off the inbounds play and made the first foul shot for a 61-57 lead. But his second shot was long and Garland Jefferson, who had just come in for the fouled-out Raker, rebounded. Ten seconds later, Jefferson canned an off-balance 15-footer and it was 61-59 with 1:08 left.
Now, Univeristy Hall was bedlam, the crowd of 9,000 raising the circular roof. Graham tried to inbound to Morley, who bobbled the ball out of bounds with 1:06 left.
After another timeout, UVA worked the perimeter, trying to set up Jeff Lamp, the game's high-scorer with 20 points.
Lamp finally came free on the baseline, with Albert King (18 points) right with him. Lamp used his standard head-and-shoulder fake, drawing the foul from King with 42 seconds left.
Lamp, an 82 percent foul shooter, made both free throws and it was tied at 61.
"We know in the last minute if we have the ball we're going to get a good shot," Manning said. "We have too many good shooters not to hit the rim, at last."
The Terps ran the clock down to 10 seconds before calling time to set up the last play. As always, the last play had three options: Manning, King or Graham.
Manning, trying to cut around a King pick, was double-teamed and Morley inbounded to King, got the ball right back and fed Graham, 30 feet from the basket, straight out.
Graham, with Lamp on him, dribbled to the top of the key, stopped and shot. The ball swished through with five seconds left.
"If I'd seen the clock in front of me, I'd have gotten closer," said Graham, who made four of 13 for the game. "But I wasn't smothered. He backed up a little so I took what he gave me. It felt good right away. I thought it was going."
It went, as UVA desperately called time with four seconds left.
Now it was Terry Holland's turn to call time to set up a final play.
"Ideally, we wanted Lamp to take the last shot but when they didn't oppose the inbounds pass, we figured Jeff (Jones) would have time to get the ball downcourt for a good shot, maybe an 18-footer," Holland said. "It didn't work out."
It didn't work out for two reasons. First, Jones tried to get close enough for a 15-footer and even as the shot was in the air, referee Hank Nichols was signaling that the shot would not count if it dropped. The second problem was that the shot (Jones hit two of seven) didn't go, anyway.
"We figured we'd rather let them dribble it down and have Jones or someone shoot it rather than Lamp," Driesell said. "Lamp's a pretty good outside shooter, isn't he?"
Lamp was good tonight (eight of 13) but the rest of the Cavaliers were not.
As a team, they shot 44 percent for the game, including a horrid 36 percent the first half, when the Terps led, 30-28, in what could be described as, at best, a sluggish 20 minutes.
The Terps trailed briefly, 39-36, four minutes into the second half (UVA's biggest lead), but with King recovering from a slow start, the Terps moved to a 46-41 lead with 13 minutes to play.
Seconds later, with 12:12 left, Sampson, who finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds, fell making a 17-foot jump shot that cut the lead to 48-45. He went to the locker room for six minutes and the Terps, spreading out to set up backdoor plays with the middle now wide open, held their lead.
They extended it to seven on the Manning free throws with 1:41 left before Virginia made its belated challenge. The Cavs got even but they never got ahead, and the jubilant Terps had another notch in their belt, a notch that left Virginia stunned.
"In the past, Maryland has always played dumb ball," said Wahoo captain Mike Owens. "They've always had the best talent but never put it together. Now, Lefty's got his team playing together."
And that is something to be taken seriously.