Dec. 19, 2003
By Raymond Robb
In a first-ever meeting in the new Comcast Center, the 2002-03 Virginia Cavaliers defeated the 8th ranked Maryland Terrapins 86-78 in front of a national television audience for their first victory in College Park since 1993. With the win Virginia gained a thirteenth victory on the season and evened their ACC record at 4-4 through the first half of conference play. Virginia also became the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to defeat the defending NCAA Champions in their new facility.
After a strong performance early in the year at the Maui Invitational, Virginia struggled in ACC play with close losses to N.C. State, Duke and Clemson on the road before losing to Georgia Tech by 20 points. Despite victories over North Carolina, 18th ranked Wake Forest and Florida State at University Hall, the Cavaliers came into the contest at Maryland having lost five of their last eight games.
With a record of 14-4 (including a 6-1 mark in the ACC), Maryland was in the midst of a five-game win streak coming into the match-up against Virginia. After their first conference loss of the season at 20th ranked Wake Forest, the Terrapins gained the first of four consecutive ACC wins by defeating the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils 87-72 at home.
Virginia played well from the outset of the game, making 10 of their first 14 shots and using a 14-5 run sparked by consecutive baskets from forward Travis Watson and three-pointers by center Elton Brown and guard Derrick Byars to take a 17 to 11 lead early in the first half.
However, Maryland quickly closed the gap to only a point as guard Drew Nicholas made two free throws and forward Tahj Holden drained a three-point jumper. Moments later, the Cavaliers used a 16-4 surge, keyed in transition, with baskets by Watson, Majestic Mapp, Nick Vander Laan, and a three point shot by Todd Billet to go up by 13 points. This back and forth tempo was characteristic of a competitive first half featuring three lead changes and two ties.
With the score knotted at 45, Derrick Byars broke free for a lay-up with two seconds remaining before halftime to give the Cavaliers a two-point lead at the break. Watson led all Virginia scorers with 11 points and 5 rebounds, as the Cavaliers shot 55.2 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range in the first half.
Center Ryan Randle made four of Maryland’s first five baskets of the second half and Virginia was held scoreless for more than four minutes, as the Terrapins reclaimed the lead 55-49. Maryland steadily increased their advantage to as many as twelve points before Virginia’s outside shooting allowed them to make one of the most impressive scoring runs of the ACC season.
With 12:18 to play, reserve Devin Smith connected on the first of two consecutive three pointers to cut the Maryland lead in half. Three minutes later, with the Terrapin lead at five, Smith again drained two straight from behind the arc as the Cavaliers pulled within two points. Smith, who only scored three points in the first half, finished with a team-high 17 points, including a remarkable five out of seven from three-point range.
Twenty-seven seconds later another Virginia reserve, Jermaine Harper, connected on the first of his two straight three-point baskets to give the Cavaliers their first lead since halftime. Harper’s second long-distance jumper extended the Virginia lead to 75-67 and Maryland was unable to recover. In all, the Cavaliers made six three-pointers in the second half of play, including four in a span of just over four minutes. For the game, UVa made 12 of 22 three-point attempts, shooting 54.5 percent from behind the arc.
Travis Watson pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds, as the Cavaliers held a 40-36 advantage on the boards for the game. Watson, one of four Virginia players to score in double-figures, finished with 15 points, making 7 of his 14 attempts from the field. In what may be the most impressive statistic from the game, Virginia’s reserve players contributed 43 points coming in off the bench, including 31 points in the second half.
Virginia followed up the win over Maryland by defeating the North Carolina State Wolfpack 61-58 at home in their next game. Although UVa struggled late in the season, the Cavaliers again topped the Terrapins 80-78 in overtime at University Hall on March 9th in the regular season finale. The win gave Virginia a hard-earned 15th win on the season and qualified them for post-season play for the fourth consecutive season under head coach Pete Gillen.