The Virginia men’s basketball team concluded its 75-72 overtime win Sunday at Maryland with a lineup that included a walk-on, a freshman who was supposed to redshirt this season and three players who had not checked out of the game since the first half. Injuries and foul trouble had reduced the number of scholarship players available to Coach Tony Bennett to four.
So, yes, one could safely say Virginia (22-8, 9-7 ACC) was excited about earning a first-round bye in the upcoming conference tournament in Atlanta, a reward Sunday’s victory ensured. The Cavaliers will not play again until Friday, when, as the No. 4 seed, they will face either North Carolina State or Boston College in the tournament’s quarterfinal round.
“As banged up as our team is, we needed [the bye] more than anybody,” sophomore forward Akil Mitchell said. Coach Tony Bennett “said there’s no pressure or anything, but if we wanted this to be a turnaround year, this was a big game for us.”
Virginia entered the day losers of four of its past six games and in need of a win to quell a rising wave of skepticism regarding the Cavaliers’ NCAA tournament chops. Three days earlier, Virginia had blown an 11-point second-half lead in a home loss to Florida State.
With just more than eight minutes to play Sunday, the Cavaliers appeared poised to coast by Maryland once again. Virginia — which had defeated the Terrapins by 27 points two weeks ago in Charlottesville — held a 12-point lead after embarking on a 12-1 run.
But then Maryland (16-14, 6-10) initiated a full-court press that Virginia was unprepared for and, initially, unable to handle. The Cavaliers started turning the ball over and missing free throws, and they continued to collect fouls frequently. Mitchell fouled out with 91 seconds remaining in regulation. Maryland cut Virginia’s lead to one.
“I thought, ‘Oh, here we go,’ ” Bennett said. “But at some point you’ve got to conquer that. . . . You’ve got to be able to answer and make some plays down the stretch. This time we made some plays to answer it offensively.”
Before the overtime period began, forward Mike Scott told his teammates to ignore the heavy defensive attention he was drawing and get him the ball. The fifth-year senior scored seven points in the extra period and finished with a career-high 35. No other ACC player has tallied more points in a single game this season.
Fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski made 4 of 9 three-point attempts and finished with 20 points. He and Scott played all but one minute Sunday.
Sophomore guard Joe Harris logged 37 minutes despite not having practiced the past two days because of concussion symptoms. When Harris fouled out with 5.3 seconds remaining in overtime, walk-on Doug Browman checked in. Freshman forward Darion Atkins had fouled out a few minutes earlier, and the Cavaliers were without freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon, who missed his second straight game with a left foot injury.
“We’re beat up; we’re tired. It’s been a battle this ACC season,” junior guard Jontel Evans said. “It’s been rough. It’s important for us so we can get some rest and get our minds mentally right.”