It took third-ranked Virginia 37 minutes to get a lead against Maryland tonight, and it took the Cavaliers 40 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime to defeat the Terrapins, 45-40, before 9,000 disbelievers in University Hall.
This was supposed to be a walkover for Virginia; the Terrapins were 15-point underdogs. For 30 minutes, the Terrapins ran two different delay offenses nearly perfectly. Defensively, they held Ralph Sampson to six points, lowest since the second game of his college career. From the field, Maryland outshot the winners 61 percent to 41.
The Terrapins (1-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 8-5 overall) led by as many as 12 points early in the second half, but could not withstand Virginia's defensive pressure. Still, the Cavaliers (2-1 in the conference, 13-1 in all games) did not control the game until the overtime, when Jeff Jones, their high man with 13 points, scored off the tip, then scored again with 1:30 left after Reggie Jackson threw an errant pass at the other end.
"We played as good as we can play," said Lefty Driesell, Maryland's tired coach. "The whole team did a good job. We just made some key turnovers and they cost us the game." The Terrapins had 16 turnovers and 16 points in the second half. Ten of their turnovers came on their last 14 possessions in regulation.
"They just did a great job in their ball control offense," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland, whose players said he had some "loud words" for them after Maryland led, 24-14, at the half. "We got frustrated the first half and we didn't play very well. They wanted the game more than we did then. The second half, we played very gutty ball to come back."
The Cavaliers, who spent most of the first half whining about the officiating, finally began their comeback with the Terrapins leading, 30-23, and 12:30 left to play.
Jeff Adkins, who along with Dutch Morley keyed the perfect running of the two delays -- the double post used against Duke Saturday and a variation of the four corners -- was on the bench with four fouls and the Terrapins began unraveling.
Jones sank a 15-footer to make it 30-25. Adrian Branch, Maryland's high man with 15 points, was called for a walk. Jones made another shot from 17 feet, and it was 30-27. The Terrapins killed two minutes of clock, but Charles Pittman was called for charging and Jim Miller made two free throws to make it 30-29 with 8:47 remaining.
"I thought maybe we got a little tentative, stopped looking at the basket like we did in the first half," said Adkins, who was watching at that stage. "We played so well for 30 minutes. We had the game won, then we let it slip away. It's as disappointing a loss as I can remember."
It wasn't lost at that point, however. The rest of the game did not produce great basketball. But it did produce great theater.
It was emotional, taut and frenzied, each possession vital because there were so few of them. Especially during the final moments.
After Miller's foul shots, Herman Veal went to the basket on Sampson and drew a goaltending call. For the night, Sampson was called for three goaltends. He was two of six both from the field and the foul line.
Veal's basket made it 32-29 with 8:23 left. Craig Robinson cut it to 32-31 on two foul shots with 6:21 left and the Terrapins went back to their delay, Virginia chasing tenaciously. With 3:45 left, an errant pass by Branch (one of his nine turnovers) gave Virginia the ball.
The Cavaliers went to Sampson, but his hook missed. Virginia pressed and Maryland was called for a 10-second violation. This time, Wilson missed a drive but Sampson made the follow and Virginia had its first lead, 33-32, with 2:59 left.
A foul by Pittman put Sampson on the line with 2:14 to go. But he only made one, and it was 34-32. Branch missed, Jones rebounded, but Adkins stole the pass and fed Pittman, who was fouled. With the crowd screaming, he made both shots to tie the game at 34 with 1:31 to play.
The Cavaliers ran the clock to 19 seconds and called time. They ran their play for Sampson, and Adkins fouled him with four seconds left. Sampson missed both free throws.
Veal rebounded. He had orders from Driesell to try to get the ball to midcourt in that situation, then call time. But he couldn't find anyone to pass to, and the clock ran to two seconds before he called time.
The Terrapins inbounded to Pittman at midcourt and called time with one second left. Driesell inserted Pete Holbert and ordered his end-of-the-game play for him, Holbert setting up on the far side of the court, running around a pick to get the pass and shooting. Holbert got the ball left of the key, but was double-teamed and could not square to shoot before time ran out.
"We ran a tip play," Jones said. "but it didn't work. When I got the ball though, I just went for the basket. I wanted to make something happen quick."
He did, a 10-foot jumper in the lane for a 36-34 lead.
Still patient, the Terrapins ran the clock to 2:15. But then Jackson, who came off the bench following his one-game suspension, threw a bad pass and Jones intercepted.
The Cavaliers looked for Sampson, then Jones made another 10-footer to make it 38-34 with 1:30 left. Wilson made it 40-34 with two foul shots 35 seconds later, and although Holbert made three jumpers, it was not enough.
Twenty minutes after it was over, Driesell sat alone on a bench in the locker room, staring at the wall. As they dressed, several of his players walked by and tapped him softly. In their quiet way, they seemed to be saying, "you did everything you could in this one."
They were right.