Virginia was a beaten team in the first half against Maryland on Sunday, as the Terrapins romped to a 17-point advantage. The listless Cavaliers appeared to have no answers, fading further and further away from the victory they needed. But somehow they kept grinding, taking the lead with 4:06 left in regulation and ultimately gutting out a 61-58 overtime win.
For a team that hasn't produced in late-game situations of late, there's no discounting just how big the comeback was for the Wahoos.
With the win, UVa (21-10, 11-7 ACC) locked up a fourth-place finish in the regular season and along with it a bye in the first round of this week's ACC Tournament in Greensboro. But getting there and beating Maryland (20-11, 8-10) was never easy.
The Hoos scored first, leading 3-0 in the opening minute. They then watched as the Terps went on a 15-3 run over the next eight minutes. Scoreless from that first basket, a 3-pointer from Paul Jesperson at 19:17, until Mike Tobey scored with 11:04 left in the half, Virginia couldn't do much right in the first 20 minutes.
Luckily for the home team, despite a lack of execution the effort rose as the clock rand and Tobey played inspired ball. He made three straight for the Cavaliers and even as UMd was adding to its lead and shots weren't falling, UVa battled.
When Justin Anderson nailed a 3-pointer from the corner with 1.2 seconds left, it cut Virginia's deficit to 32-19. The Cavaliers would go on to score 35 points in the second half, seesawing their way, little by little, to within one point with 2:13 left in the game on a pair of free throws from Joe Harris and then within one possession following a Nick Faust on a step back with 1:52 left.
At that point, it was finally time for Harris to connect from deep.
His shot from beyond the arc with 1:37 remaining tied the game, giving what was an otherwise ugly basketball game a thrilling setup for the finish. Though Dez Wells put Maryland up 54-52 with 23.8 seconds remaining, UVa responded with a side out-of-bounds play that found Tobey underneath. Anderson, who waited and waited until Tobey was open, then blocked a Pe'Shon Howard layup that would have been the game winner.
In overtime, UVa outscored UMd 7-4 thanks to five from Akil Mitchell, who had a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds, his 11th double-double game of the year.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said the play to get Tobey's tying bucket was one of their "decent" ones and that his freshman center was the third option on it. He called timeout to set it up because he wanted to get that specific action from the side inbounds. He had decided, much to the chagrin of fans, not to call timeouts late in the previous two games.
"Justin I thought made a terrific pass and a good seal, good hands by Mike," Bennett added. "[Maryland] played it a certain way to take away the corner 3 so that opened up the position. He sealed him and certainly had the touch to make it."
His team may have been down 17 in the first half but it had numerous chances to make serious runs in the second half. Harris missed nine in a row at one point and his 3-pointer to tie it late was the teams' only make from deep in the second half.
"When you're down as many as we were, when you shoot the ball the way we were, and missing free throws and just struggling," Bennett explained, "you just have to claw back possession by possession.
"We tried to really adjust and say, 'Listen, either you're going to go inside and play inside-out basketball, you're going to be tough minded and make it hard on them to score or this thing's over.'"
Maryland's 1-3-1 defense was something Bennett said "caught us on our heels" but he credited his team for dealing with it and moving forward even as the deficit grew.
"We're very fortunate to win," Bennett said plainly. "I'm no dummy on that one."
For the first time since before Tobey went down with mononucleosis in January and Darion Atkins (who gave UVa seven vital minutes off the bench) went out with a shin injury at about the same point in the season, the Cavaliers went big. And it paid off.
Tobey finished with 13 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes, the highest of his season since 27 against Wofford on December 30 and about 10 more than he played in the loss at Florida State on Thursday.
Despite another rough night shooting the ball, Harris finished with 15 points, going 4 of 18 from the field and 2 of 7 from 3-point land in 40 minutes of action.
And Anderson, who was credited with five blocked shots, scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds, and dished out three assists.
On his Senior Night, Jontel Evans was almost the goat. With the team up 60-58 with 30 seconds left, Evans got a steal but missed the ensuing layup. It gave the Terps a chance tie or win.
But Evans' defense on their next possession helped force Wells to lose the ball out of bounds on his drive. In his final regular season game at John Paul Jones Arena, Evans had three points, four rebounds, three assists, and that one steal, along with three turnovers, in 40 minutes.
The victory keeps UVa's NCAA Tournament hopes alive following road losses at Boston College and FSU. The Cavaliers, instead of playing No. 12-seed Virginia Tech on Thursday, will watch as the Hokies battle fifth-seeded NC State. The winner of that game plays UVa on Friday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the 60th Annual ACC Tournament.
The fifth-largest comeback in school history also gives UVa a perfect 9-0 mark in conference play at home. It's the fourth time in school history that the Cavaliers have gone undefeated in ACC play at home (1981, 1982, 2007).