By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Maybe Roddy Peters wasn’t familiar with the scouting report on UVa sophomore Justin Anderson. Maybe the Maryland freshman knew all about Anderson’s shot-blocking prowess and still believed he could score on him.
Whatever the reason, the 6-3 Peters decided to challenge the 6-6 Anderson with about 10:45 to play Monday night, starting a sequence that helped Virginia break open a close game at John Paul Jones Arena.
“It was just a huge momentum swing for us,” senior guard Joe Harris said after the Cavaliers’ 61-53 victory over the Big Ten-bound Terrapins in their final meeting in Charlottesville as ACC rivals.
A forced shot by UVa guard Malcolm Brogdon led to a Maryland fast break on which Peters, dribbling down the left side of the lane, momentarily appeared to have a clear path to the basket. But Anderson, on Peters’ right, raced back on defense, slowed for an instant and then timed his jump perfectly.
“I think he didn’t really realize what I was doing,” Anderson said after the game.
Anderson swatted Peters’ shot off the backboard and then saved the ball from going out of bounds, flipping it to teammate Teven Jones. Jones, a sophomore guard, dribbled up the court and spotted Harris uncovered in the right corner. Harris took it from there, burying a 3-pointer that pushed the Wahoos’ lead to 40-35 with 10:36 left. That elicited a deafening roar from the home fans and prompted an immediate timeout from Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.
“A five-point turnaround for Virginia,” analyst Jay Bilas said on the ESPNU telecast. “Talk about a dagger.”
Harris said: “That was an unbelievable block.”
The victory was the eighth in a row for the `Hoos (20-5, 11-1), who are ranked No. 16 in the latest USA Today coaches poll. That’s the longest winning streak for UVa in ACC play since 1982-83.
The Cavaliers reached other milestones Monday night. They assured themselves of finishing with at least 20 victories for the third straight season, stretched their ACC home winning streak to 15 games, and recorded their sixth straight triumph over the Terrapins (14-11, 6-6).
That’s the longest winning streak for Virginia in a series that started in 1913.
“It feels great,” Anderson said after contributing four points, three rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in 18 high-energy minutes off the bench.
“We have to continue to stay level-headed and just focus on the next game … I think this team is all in, and we’re sacrificing for each other, and it’s beautiful basketball that we’re playing.”
This was the fourth game in nine days for the Cavaliers, and “we needed that home-crowd energy,” fifth-year coach Tony Bennett said.
The fans delivered, and the players responded with a gritty performance. Virginia trailed 26-25 at halftime, and the teams were tied with 11:50 remaining. But reserve big man Darion Atkins fed Harris for a layup that put the `Hoos ahead 37-35, and Anderson followed with his dramatic block. After Virginia built an 11-point lead, the Terps rallied late, but they never got closer than four.
“There is a reason Virginia is 11-1 in the league,” Turgeon said. “Defensively, Virginia stepped it up. We missed some shots that we were hoping we’d make and we couldn’t get them to go. Virginia was terrific, especially in the second half.”
Harris, a first-team All-ACC pick in 2012-13, led the Cavaliers with 19 points, the most he’s scored in conference play this season. For the second straight game, he took only four shots in the first half, but he was more aggressive and assertive after intermission Monday night.
“Joe wants to win,” Bennett said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Harris made 6 of 12 shots from the floor against Maryland, including 4 of 7 from beyond the 3-point arc, and hit 3 of 4 from the line.
“He’s an efficient player,” Bennett said. “He’s become even more efficient, but he sensed, `Look, I need to get going here.’ He hit a couple shots. He’s such a team-oriented guy. He’s OK being a second option, a third option, that’s the way he’s wired. But he understands he draws so much attention it helps other people get going, but then he has the ability to raise and elevate his game to hunt the shot, look for it and get things going. That’s a rare player who can be that way, and I think that’s going to bode well, as I’ve said before, for him beyond college.”
Harris’ 3-pointer from the left wing with 16:25 left gave UVa its first lead of the second half. After a Maryland miss, he struck again from nearly the same spot, dropping in a trey that made it 33-29.
“Joe does a little bit of everything if you watch him on the floor, and I think that’s what makes him so lethal,” Brogdon said. “When the ball’s in his hands, he’s making other people better and scoring on his own.”
Brogdon (14 points) and 6-8 senior Akil Mitchell (season-high 13) also scored in double figures for UVa. Mitchell grabbed a game-high six rebounds and helped Virginia silence Evan Smotrycz, a transfer from Michigan who scored all eight of his points in the first 6:14.
Smotrycz, a 6-9 forward who’s a proficient 3-point shooter, finished 3 for 13 from the floor. Mitchell showed again Monday night why he’s a candidate for ACC defensive player of the year.
“His ability to guard mobile guys, that’s such a strength,” Bennett said.
Bennett also praised the defense of the 6-8 Atkins, a junior whose length and athleticism helped disrupt Maryland’s ball-screen offense.
“Those guys did a nice job, Akil and D.A,” Bennett said. “When they’re locked in, they have the experience and the quickness to bother people who are trying to use it.”
Sophomore guard Seth Allen, who hit seven treys and scored a career-high 32 points Saturday in the Terps’ win over Florida State, didn’t make a 3-pointer until the final seconds Monday night. He led the Terps with 15 points but was unable to take over the game as he had against FSU.
“He’s a tremendous player, and not many people really realized that before,” Anderson said. “They’re starting to realize now. But we knew he was a focal point coming off a 32-point performance. We knew he was a high-volume shooter, and then on top of that he has two sidekicks in Nick Faust and Dez Wells who are very aggressive, who are on the prowl always in transition and also can knock down some shots. Collectively, I think we did a great job on all three of those big-time guards.”
Starters and reserves alike made important contributions for Virginia on Monday night. It all added up to another satisfying victory for the ACC’s second-place team.
“It took a little bit of everything today,” Bennett said.
Brogdon said: “I think it speaks to our maturity to show the ability to keep winning and to not be content or complacent at this point of the season. It speaks to the experience that we have. We have two very experienced seniors, myself, I’m basically a junior, and then a big class of sophomores. I think we’re playing well together, and we’re just staying hungry.”
Virginia and Maryland will meet again in the regular-season finale, March 9 at Comcast Center in College Park.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Virginia has six regular-season games left, the first two of which are on the road. The Cavaliers won’t play at at JPJ again until Notre Dame comes to town Feb. 22.
UVa visits Clemson on Saturday afternoon and Virginia Tech next Tuesday night.
Clemson (15-7, 6-4), which is tied for fifth in the ACC, plays Tuesday night at Notre Dame (12-12, 3-8).
The Cavaliers haven’t won at the Tigers’ Littlejohn Coliseum since Jan. 28, 2007.