By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For a story that will focus on the University of Virginia men’s basketball team’s suffocating Pack Line defense, Sports Illustrated sent two photographers to John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday.
SI’s timing was impeccable, as 22nd-ranked UVa turned in another defensive gem.
After hitting a layup on the first possession of the second half to go up 33-31, Maryland didn’t score again for more than eight minutes. By then the Cavaliers had built a double-digit lead, and they didn’t let up at either end of the floor, to the delight of the near-capacity crowd of 14,101.
“Our crowd was great,” Virginia guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “All night they were loud. I thought we kind of used their energy for our defense, especially in the second half, just kind of ratcheted it up a little bit. We were able to get some stops and convert it into offense.”
The final score was 71-44, UVa, in the first of these ACC rivals’ two regular-season meetings. In the second half, Maryland (5-7, 15-11) shot 20.8 percent from the floor. For the game, the Terrapins weren’t much more accurate. They shot 26.9 percent against the Wahoos, who lead the ACC in scoring defense and 3-point field-goal percentage defense.
“Give them credit,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “They guarded the heck out of us. They were so intense; their on-ball defense was really, really good.”
Virginia (7-5, 20-6) played stifling defense in the first half, too, and, led by fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott (7 for 11), hit 50 percent of its shots from the floor. Yet the teams were tied 31-31 at intermission, thanks to Maryland’s stunning display of long-range marksmanship.
The Terps made 7 of 13 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half. Most of those treys were of the high-degree-of-difficulty variety.
“They’re hitting shots from 30 feet with hands in their faces,” sophomore forward Akil Mitchell said.
UVa coach Tony Bennett had no problems with his players’ defensive effort in the first half, and he told them as much during the break. “We said, ‘Don’t deviate from the intensity and the commitment to that end, because you can come away with this one with your defense. If they can make those all game, well, there’s not any defense that can stop that,’ ” Bennett said.
Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer, had 14 points in the first half, 12 coming on well-contested treys. The 6-1 sophomore missed all seven of his shots in the second half. He finished with 14 points in a game in which Bennett used three guards on Stoglin: the 6-1 Zeglinski, 5-11 junior Jontel Evans and 6-5 freshman Malcolm Brogdon.
“He can score in bunches real quick,” Bennett said, “but we just said, ‘We’re going to try to make him earn.’ With a great scorer, they have to earn. You can’t give them easy ones. And I don’t think he had any easy ones tonight that I can recall.”
At the other end, Bennett said, UVa tried to make Stoglin “guard a little bit, too, and wear him down, because he’s expending a lot of energy. Again, when you say there’s a battle of wills going on, you gotta be able to wear some guys down on both ends of the floor.”
Stoglin was 0 for 3 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes, as were his teammates.
“They hit some tough shots in the first half, but going into halftime we knew that they weren’t going to be able to do that all night,” Evans said. “As long as we kept being aggressive on defense, we knew those shots weren’t going to keep falling like that.”
The Cavaliers were right. Maryland made only five field goals in the second half, and one came on its first possession. The ‘Hoos responded to that basket with a 16-0 run.
“It just seemed like they wanted it more in the second half,” Maryland senior Sean Mosley said, “and that was the outcome of the game.”
Mitchell said he wasn’t aware the Terps had gone so long without scoring in the second half “until one of our coaches said something about it. But I looked up and [saw] they had 33, and I kind of reminded myself they had 31 at halftime. We were just locking in defensively.”
The ‘Hoos sparkled when they had the ball, too. Their All-America candidate, Scott, finished with 25 points, his career high in an ACC game. Brogdon came off the bench to score 14 points — his high in an ACC game — and Zeglinski buried two treys in an 11-point performance.
Not since Jan. 28, when he made 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range in UVa’s win at NC State, had Zeglinski scored in double figures. He came into the Maryland game having missed 24 of his past 31 shots.
“I know he’s certainly been struggling with his shot, but his floor game has actually been improving,” Bennett said, “in terms of his ability to get to the lane, making some plays for others, and [defending big-time] scorers.
“I’ve been pleased in all those areas. It’s just obvious that he struggled with his shots. So when he got a couple buckets to go down, that certainly made a difference.”
Bennett said he was thrilled for Zeglinski, “because I know how hard he’s battling, and I know how it’s weighing on him, and he gave us a great lift. But it wasn’t just Sammy. It was everybody.”
Mitchell grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds. Sophomore swingman Joe Harris, playing with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, contributed 6 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes. Brogdon missed only one shot from the floor — he was 2 for 2 from 3-point range — and was 2 for 2 from the line. Moreover, he protected the ball better than he had Tuesday night in a loss at Clemson.
“The most complete game that he’s had all year,” Bennett called Brogdon’s performance against Maryland.
Brogdon said: “Personally, I was frustrated with myself at Clemson. I had four turnovers, and that’s four too many.”
For an extended stretch of the second half, Bennett went with a lineup that included all three of the team’s scholarship freshmen: Brogdon, 6-8 forward Darion Atkins and 6-6 swingman Paul Jesperson.
Atkins finished with 2 points, 2 blocked shots, 1 steal and 1 rebound in 11 minutes. Jesperson, in a career-high 17 minutes, had 3 points, 3 boards and no turnovers and played solid defense.
“He’s got a good feel for the game,” Bennett said. “He’s smart, and his defense has improved, so I just felt comfortable with him out there. It’s not ideal with Joe’s [injury], but if Paul can continue to mature like that, that’ll really give us a boost.”
Scott’s previous high in an ACC game was 23 points. He was 10 for 20 from the floor against Maryland and 5 for 5 from the line. He also grabbed 7 rebounds.
“They can’t stop you, Mike!” a UVa fan yelled in the first half. Scott cooled off after intermission, but he was still more than the Terps could handle.
“We wanted to get him some touches and move him around some, and he certainly started out on fire with his shot,” Bennett said. “But it wasn’t just on the perimeter. I thought he had a nice mix to his game, where he got some post-ups with some outside shots and got to the line, which was nice to see. Everybody knows we certainly need him to produce, and he did.”
The ‘Hoos emphatically bounced back from their first back-to-back defeats of the season. (They lost at North Carolina last weekend.) Bennett pushed his players hard in practice Thursday and Friday, and they responded on game day.
“Tonight we wanted to come in here with the mindset that we were going to be tough and aggressive on the defensive end and impose our will,” Evans said, “and that’s what we did.”
Bennett said: “Our guys always give effort, but we knew we’d have to ratchet it up or just turn up the volume a little more in terms of the intensity from start to finish. There just wasn’t [another] option. At home, we knew we’d have the energy of the crowd, and they were terrific. They really got behind us, and I think the guys fed off that.”
Like his classmate Scott, Zeglinski has two regular-season games left at JPJ: next Saturday against UNC and March 1 against Florida State.
“Today was a lot of fun,” Zeglinski said. “The energy of the crowd, it was great. I’m going to miss it, but we’ve still got two more, and it’s important that we protect our home court.”
UP NEXT: UVa plays Tuesday night against Virginia Tech (4-8, 15-12) in Blacksburg. ESPNU will televise the 9 p.m. game.
Virginia Tech beat visiting Georgia Tech in overtime Saturday on a last-second 3-pointer by fifth-year guard Dorenzo Hudson, who played with Scott on the postgraduate team at Hargrave Military Academy.
Hudson also was the hero of the Hokies’ 47-45 win over the ‘Hoos at JPJ on Jan. 22.
“It’s going to be tough,” Scott said of playing at Cassell Coliseum, where UVa won last season. “It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere. They’re going to be ready. They’re going to be amped. They’re going to try to sweep us this year.”