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A less than impressive effort Wednesday in Coral Gables, Fla. consequently casted a shadow of doubt on how driven the Terrapins were going to play in their regular season finale.
So with seemingly nothing but their pride on the line, and an invitation to play in the N.I.T. becoming more and more transparent, a defenseless Maryland (18-13, 7-8 ACC) team folded on Senior Day, falling to the visiting Cavaliers 74-60.
The sharp-shooting Cavaliers (16-14, 7-9 ACC) exploited a porous perimeter defense that had allowed better than 50 percent shooting from the 3-point stripe in two of their last three contests. On this day, the Atlantic Coast Conference's third-ranked 3-point shooting team gashed the Terrapins with a 47-percent mark from downtown. P>
Junior guard Sammy Zeglinski, who entered today's action averaging less than 7 points per game, led the way with a career-best 25 points. Zeglinski matched a career-high six 3-pointers, building off of a a perfect 4-4 first-half performance. Zeglinski's previous high was in November of 2008 when he nailed six shots from long-range in a 24-point effort against Liberty.
"He's a very experienced guard," Maryland head coach Gary Williams said following the loss, "and we couldn't stop him."
Conversely, the Terrapins were unable to spark their 3-point shooting, registering just two made-3s on nine attempts. Maryland has made two or less 3-pointers in four conference games this season, a weapon in their arsenal that they have been lacking all year.
After earning ACC Rookie of the Week in back-to-back weeks for averaging over 20 points in the last five games, Terrell Stoglin scored nine points. Seniors Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker drew the starting nod, but combined for just 10 points, three assists and seven rebounds, a 2-8 mark from the floor.
But as their shooting struggled, their lackadaisical ball-handling helped Virginia capitalize on a 12-0 differential in points off turnovers. The Terrapins recorded a 13-11 assist-to-turnover ratio, with seven players responsible for at least one turnover.
"Basketball is an interesting game" was the message Williams delivered to his players in an unusually long post-game speech. Williams said it is the little nitpick plays – in close games it comes down to loose balls, how you react to adversity and being ready to play.
Virginia, which owns the ACC's second-best scoring defense, allowing just over 62 points per game, held Maryland to their second lowest point total on the year. The one other occasion in which Maryland was held to 60 points or fewer – a then-Comcast Center-record loss to Virginia Tech after being held to 47 points.
The interior players – Jordan Williams and Dino Gregory, who was honored before tipoff on Senior Day at Comcast Center, combined for 32 points on 12-18 shooting, although 21 points came in the first half. Gregory led the seniors with 15 points, second only to Williams' 17 points. He, along with Tucker and Bowie, left to a College Park faithful chanting, "Thank you seniors."
The first half appeared more like a heavyweight bout, with each team exchanging blows and the lead nine times, with the Cavaliers owning a four-point edge at the half. However, an inconspicuous beginning to the second period, however, helped Virginia capture the lead for the remainder of the afternoon.
Maryland head coach Gary Williams was tagged with a technical foul after freshman point Terrell Stoglin was called for a foul on Zegwinski. And although Williams' passion sparked the crowd to get behind their team, it actually drove Virginia to a 10-3 run.
A late drive by the Terrapins helped bring them within five points of the Cavs, offering the last ounce of hope that the team could salvage a win on Senior Day. With more than four minutes of spectacular defense, holding Virginia 0-6 from the floor while the Terrapins mustered up a 9-2 run, but was put to a screeching halt when the Cavaliers senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan completed a game-sealing three-point play.
The loss is Maryland's third straight, including convincing defeats at the hands of North Carolina and Miami. The failure to beat the Tar Heels and perhaps capture what would have been the much-desired signature win on the season seemed to have deflated the team, something uncharacteristic of a Gary Williams-coached team.
"You lose like a game that and think you'd be ready to play," Williams said. "As a player I always wanted to play again after a game when I didn't play particularly well. You can't get down like that."
The loss snapped Maryland's record of 15 consecutive seasons with at least 19 wins – at least in the regular season. It did, however, mark a coaching feat for Virginia's Tony Bennett – his 100th win at the helm of the Cavaliers.
Both Virginia and Maryland will now head to Greensboro, N.C. for the ACC Tournament which is set to tip off Thursday March 10. Williams said the starting five for the opening round match-up will be determined by how his players fare in practice.
When asked what his team's goal would be at the tournament Williams simply replied, "Win four."