The Terps dominated the first half, led by as many as 17, and had every opportunity to notch a significant win. Instead, they missed chance after chance, buckled under pressure, and let their opponents back into the game, losing that 17-point lead and eventually capitulating in overtime, 61-58, a result that, while harsh, epitomizes the season that just was: promising, yes, and undoubtedly close, but also unpolished and, ultimately, not enough.
That they led so much so early is a credit to the way they came out and played the first half, in fairness. It was a dominant twenty minutes, with Maryland controlling every aspect of the game and earning their big lead. They used a full-court-press early and it seemed to fluster Virginia's offense and produce easy opportunities for themselves; perhaps more importantly, it also gave them a belief, confidence, and freedom that seemed to be lacking earlier in the year. Maryland, for lack of a better term, seemed to be playing loose; Virginia, by comparison, was a team with the weight of the bubble on their backs. The lead at the break was 13; it could've easily been much more.
As perhaps should've been expected, the Terps couldn't keep up that level of performance for the entire game. And I have no problem with the fact that they didn't; few teams win on the road against an evenly-matched opponent by 20 or so. But it was clear that they were overmatched in the second half, showing none of the swagger or assurance - and certainly none of the execution - that they displayed in the first twenty minutes. The second half was much less about looking to see out a win as much as it was looking to desperately hold onto a lead in a game they didn't look like they had any business winning.
Virginia still struggled to shoot and had troubles with Maryland's pressure, but the referees tightened up the whistle and the Cavs found a way back into the game through fouls. And once the rhythm of the half was obvious, the game turned into a race against the clock for Virginia as much as against Maryland; the Terps managed only 22 second-half points and were holding on by a thread against a hard-charging Virginia team. The Cavs would never retake the lead in regulation, but twice tied it: first with a Joe Harris three-pointer at 1:35 left in the game, and then through a Mike Tobey layup in the closing moments, sending the game to overtime.
The Terps never led again. While Virginia didn't control the extra period, it always seemed like there would only be one winner, and ultimately that was the case. Maryland's final four possessions in OT were an exercise in incompetence, and indicative of the twenty or so minutes that preceded them: Nick Faust missed a difficult three-pointer, Faust turned the ball over, Dez Wells turned the ball over, and Wells missed a three-pointer. Converting any of the four would've tied the game.
Instead, they squandered each, and went out the regular season much the same way they came in: looking respectable, looking dangerous, and looking just a bit too far away from actually pulling off tough wins consistently. Only at this point, the sight is much more tiresome.
There's a lot to be said here: about whether Maryland should've been in the game in the first place, about whether their meltdown was more about lack of mental strength or simple regression to the mean, about whether they should've executed better, and especially about how much of an impact referees had in the second half - aside from the foul and free throw discrepancies in the second half, there was a Pe`Shon Howard technical foul that, obviously, proved crucial and looked, as far as technicals go, potentially soft.
But I'm only going to talk about one thing, and it's an obvious thing, and it's the thing that undoubtedly, more than any other factor, lost this for Maryland: their offense. It's inconsistent at best and downright anemic at worst. Their second-half collapse was driven more by their inability to score than anything else, including the refs. Faust was hitting jumpers in the first half, which gave the Terps an offensive outlet in the halfcourt. He disappeared in the second, and with him disappeared Maryland's halfcourt offense.
It's simple: no bucket in the halfcourt, no ability to press. No ability to press, no ability to push Virginia out of its offensive rhythm. No ability to push Virginia out of its offensive rhythm, less ability to get stops and no ability to force turnovers and get offensive rebounds leading to easy breakouts. No easy breakouts, no easy fast break points. No easy fast break poins and no way to get points in the halfcourt, and, well, no points.
If the Terps had a way to get even just a few more shots to fall in the halfcourt offense, they'd set up their press to continue to stymie Virginia and generate more easy baskets. It's why the first half worked, and it's why the second half fell apart. And it's the same old problem we've known about all year, with no end in sight. It's cost Maryland before, and it cost them again tonight.
Now we turn to the ACC Tournament, a prospect few are likely looking forward to. There's a chance the players feel the same, after one of the toughest losses of the year, but there's not much time to regroup emotionally with a resilient Wake Forest team looking to add insult to injury come Thursday.