By Jeff White
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In the Hollywood version, UVa teammates Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski would have walked off the court victorious after their final basketball game at John Paul Jones Arena, basking in the applause of thousands of adoring fans.
But real life doesn’t always provide a storybook ending, and a stunning collapse Thursday by Virginia against 22nd-ranked Florida State marred what might have been a glorious night for Zeglinski and Scott. The Seminoles, who trailed by 11 points with 4:15 left, rallied to win 63-60.
“Senior Night was real hard on the team,” Zeglinski said. “Not just the seniors. At this point in the season, every game is so important, and to let that one slip away, it was tough to get over.”
Three days after the loss to FSU, the sound of another final horn triggered different emotions among the Wahoos. Led by their fifth-year seniors, Scott and Zeglinski, the 24th-ranked ‘Hoos won 75-72 in overtime Sunday afternoon at Maryland’s Comcast Center, a victory that gave a timely boost to their prospects for earning an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament.
Scott, a 6-8 power forward from Chesapeake, finished with a career-high 35 points — the most by any ACC player this season — and a game-high 11 rebounds. “That’s pretty special,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
Zeglinski, a 6-1 combo guard from Philadelphia, matched his season high with 20 points and grabbed 6 rebounds to help UVa win at Maryland in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992 and ’93.
Bennett knew how disappointed Scott and Zeglinski were by the Cavaliers’ collapse Thursday against FSU. Before the game, Scott and Zeglinski had been honored in a Senior Night ceremony, along with the injured Assane Sene.
“They didn’t get to celebrate the way they wanted to,” Bennett said Sunday. “I [told them] the best way to celebrate is by playing great basketball, and I thought both of them did … They celebrated with their game on the floor today, and that’s as sweet as it gets.”
Virginia finished the regular season 22-8 overall and 9-7 in the ACC. Not since 1982-83, when Ralph Sampson ruled University Hall, has UVa won so many regular-season games. More important for a team that’s down to seven healthy scholarship players, the win over Maryland (16-14, 6-10) clinched the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament — and a first-round bye.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. Friday, UVa will face No. 5 seed NC State or No. 12 seed Boston College in an ACC quarterfinal at Philips Arena in Atlanta. State and BC meet Thursday afternoon in a first-round game.
The bye is “very big for us,” Scott said. “It give us more time to prepare, another day of rest, and [allows UVa to] rest some guys who have some injuries.”
Those guys include sophomore swingman Joe Harris, who has been playing since Feb. 11 with a broken non-shooting hand. Harris, the Cavaliers’ second-leading scorer, has had other medical issues. He suffered a mild concussion when he collided with FSU big man Bernard James on Thursday night. Harris wasn’t able to practice Friday or Saturday.
“But you never question his toughness,” Bennett said after Harris contributed 7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 37 minutes against Maryland.
With 5.3 seconds left in overtime, Harris became the third Cavalier to foul out Sunday, leaving Bennett with only four scholarship players: Scott, Zeglinski, junior point guard Jontel Evans and freshman swingman Paul Jesperson, who came into the season expecting to redshirt. Walk-on guard Doug Browman, who had not played Sunday, joined them on the court.
Sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer, made 2 of 3 from the line to pull Maryland to 73-69 after Harris fouled him behind the arc. But Scott answered with two free throws, and the ‘Hoos, after close losses to North Carolina and FSU, suffered no lasting damage when Stoglin bombed in a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“Big relief,” said Evans, who had two baskets in overtime. “After dropping two in a row, we definitely wanted to come in here and come out with a victory.”
Stoglin wasn’t particularly accurate Sunday — he made only 8 of 24 shots from the floor — but he finished with 25 points and led a spirited rally against a UVa team that has struggled to hold leads this season.
After Zeglinski, fouled on a 3-point attempt, went 3 for 3 from the line to push UVa’s lead to 51-41, Maryland turned the ball over. Zeglinski scored on a drive to make it a 12-point game with 8:09 left, and it appeared the ‘Hoos might not have to sweat out another suspenseful finish.
Alas, little comes easily for this team. During a 17-6 run by Maryland, Evans and Scott each missed a pair of free throws, to the delight of the red-clad fans in the crowd of 16,497. The Cavaliers’ lead had been pared to 59-58 when they got the ball back with 48 seconds left. But with the shot clock winding down Zeglinski hit a stepback jumper to make it a three-point game.
“I thought we had it in regulation a couple of times,” Bennett said.
The Terps refused to cooperate. Stoglin’s fourth trey tied the game at 61-61, and then a well-conceived out-of-bounds play went awry for Virginia when Atkins failed to convert on an underthrown lob pass from Harris. Maryland rebounded and called time out with 4.4 seconds left. At the buzzer, Stoglin’s 35-footer bounced off the rim, and the ‘Hoos headed to overtime for the fifth time in three seasons under Bennett.
“I was so happy it didn’t go in,” Zeglinski said.
Bennett said later that he thought his players “were a little dejected heading into overtime, but they battled. We said, ‘Get stops.’ Sure, Maryland probably missed some easy ones, but we made the plays. Mike, we were going through him, and he just had a monster game.”
Against a Virginia team that played without freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon (injured foot) for the second straight game, Maryland led only once, at 4-3. On UVa’s first possession of OT, Evans cut into the lane, got a pass from Scott and laid in the ball to make it 63-61. Scott scored seven of his team’s 14 points in the extra period, four coming on jump shots — the first of which stretched UVa’s lead to 67-63, the second to 69-63.
After the Terps closed to 69-67 on yet another Stoglin 3-pointer, Evans, who was a star tailback at Bethel High, spotted a gaping hole in the defense and drove for a layup that made it 71-67 with 19.9 seconds left.
The ball “was supposed to go to the corner, but when I came off the ball screen, I saw [a Maryland big man],” Evans said. “He hedged a little bit, then he left, and I said, ‘Wow, it’s wide open,’ and my eyes lit up. Easy two points.”
The Terrapins were so intent on shutting him down, Scott said, they forgot about Evans. “I turned around,” Scott said, “and he was at the basket so fast. I just saw him laying the ball up.”
After freshman guard Nick Faust missed a 3-point attempt for Maryland, Virginia went 4 for 4 from the line in the final 10 seconds to secure its first overtime victory under Bennett.
It was hard-earned. There were times Sunday when the ‘Hoos started to think, “Here we go again,” Bennett admitted.
“But at some point you gotta, I guess, conquer that,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games where teams have made runs at us, and we’ve had to get stops at the end of games to get a win, but [it was difficult coming so soon after] the Florida State game, when Florida State made some tough shots, and Maryland made some. You gotta be able to answer and make some plays down the stretch, and this time we made some plays to answer it offensively.”
Scott played 44 of a possible 45 minutes — his breather came in the first half — and made many of those plays. Time and again, UVa’s All-America candidate hit his trademark fadeaway jumper from the baseline, a shot he perfected while recovering from the ankle surgery that prematurely ended his 2010-11 season.
In late December, Scott scored 33 points in a win at Seattle. His previous high in an ACC game, 28 points, came Thursday night against Florida State.
“What it really comes down to is Mike Scott,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “He was the best player on the floor. He made play after play. We started to double him and he just stepped out further.”
Scott said: “That’s just confidence. Confidence comes with a lot of repetition. I’ll take that shot all the time. That’s my shot.”
In UVa’s huddle before the the start of overtime, Scott told reporters, the message was clear. “We were saying, ‘Don’t let what happened against Florida State happen again. Close this out. We gave up the lead. They punched us, and now it’s time to punch back.’ And we punched back in overtime.”
Zeglinski said: “We knew it was going to be a blue-collar game going in, and I thought we were throwing punches, they were throwing punches, and it was the last man standing, kind of. We had guys foul out. It was a whole team effort, and our numbers were thin, so we had to keep putting out maximum effort, and we were fortunate to escape.”
A year ago at Comcast Center, Zeglinski made six treys and scored 25 points — both career highs — as UVa whipped Maryland 74-60 in the regular-season finale.
“I definitely feel comfortable in this gym,” Zeglinski said.
On Sunday, he hit four 3-pointers. The biggest came with 12:15 left, after the Terrapins, who trailed by nine at halftime, had closed to 41-40 with a run that brought their fans to their feet. Zeglinski’s trey quieted the crowd.
“Sammy’s had a really interesting year, and I’m so happy that he responded like this,” Bennett said. Zeglinski has been “going through some of the struggles and slumps, but he responded, and that’s great. I know he has more good basketball left in him, and I knew he did even back then when he was struggling to knock down shots. Because he was helping us in other ways, and I thought he did it again today.”