Virginia overcame Maryland's NBA twin towers, hot second half shooting and home cooking to lodge a convincing 76-71 victory in College Park. It was the Cavaliers' second straight win over a ranked Big Ten opponent.
Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith showed why they are NBA first round prospects with their offensive rebounding, Bruno's interior shooting and especially Bruno's rim protection. Virginia's NBA draft prospect De'Andre Hunter had two layup attempts sent back by Bruno, but he adjusted well and finished with a strong performance of his own before 20+ NBA scouts.
But Jack Salt was the story of the game. The New Zealand pro league prospect flushed a career high 12 points on 6-7 shooting, almost entirely on pick-and-rolls with Kihei Clark and offensive rebounds, and battled Maryland's bigs on the defensive end. Salt was both the Glue Hoo of the Game with a 14 Glue Index and the leading impact man with a 21 Successful Possession Index. Built around its Pillar of Salt, Virginia's defense did just enough to assist the offense in winning a great college basketball game.
Defense was not much in evidence in the game's first few minutes, except when Maryland was turning the ball over on poor responses to the post double. The Mong00se drew a charge on Maryland's first possession by using his blink special power, and Kyle Guy intercepted a diagonal pass on the next. Hunter scored Virginia's first five points on a transition dunk and a three-pointer. At the first TV time out, Virginia had a 10-7 lead - a blistering 100-70 pace. Maryland came out of that time out with an equalizer and went on to seize the lead from the visitors - briefly, as it would turn out. The Cavaliers responded to the 15-12 Maryland lead the way they responded to challenges by Dayton and Wisconsin in the two previous games: they ratcheted up the intensity on both ends and wrestled the initiative from the opponent. Over the six-minute stretch from 12:56 through 6:54, Virginia held Maryland to one basket while the four top-100 talents on the floor combined for 13 points to grab control, 25-17. The two teams traded baskets for the rest of the half, both scoring at an 80-ppg clip as much from their offensive prowess as poor defense by the opposition.
Kyle was the Guy in the first half, profiting from good offensive execution whether in the Sides or spread motion sets to pour in 15 points. This must have been an emphasis in practice after the Wisconsin game, when for stretches of the second half the team looked to be simply "going through the motions" with lazy screens and lackluster cuts. The contrast was stark. Ty Jerome and Hunter supported Guy's efforts with 9 and 8 as the Hoos blistered the nets for 8/16 shooting from the arc. This was not just Virginia "getting hot"; it was the result of a great design and good execution. While 18 of the 26 halfcourt sets were run in Sides, this was a more varied and spaced version, with a melding of ball-screen and off-ball-screen action, the one often flowing naturally into the other, with ball screens on one side of the court setting up off-ball action on the weak side, just waiting for the ball to be reversed. Even when ball screens were not employed or did not lead directly to the conclusion of the possession, we saw a number of different looks out of the basic Sides set. Posts were setting up closer to the arc than to the lane; popping out to the wing or flashing up to the top of the key. Guy was bringing cuts up to the arc above the free throw line instead of always to the side. Finally, the tempo of the offense was crisper and more joyful than at any time since 2014. The result was the second 39-point half of the last three games, third of over 30. Even struggling to contain the Terps big men and giving up 30, the Hoos went into the locker room with a 9-point lead.
The Cavaliers kicked off the second half of the battle with the same elán with which they ended the first, storming out of the locker room on a 9-1 tear, forcing Mark Turgeon to call a time out just three and a half minutes into the second period. A Guy three, a pair of free throws from Hunter, and the first two salvos in Jack Salt's second half assault on the Terrapins' rim gave Virginia a 48-31 lead with less than seventeen minutes to play.
For all the grief Turgeon gets for his coaching, that time out flipped the script of the game. The Terps immediately canned a three then rebounded a Salt miss and stormed downcourt for a second three in less than thirty seconds. Suddenly it was just an 11-point game and the referees got all excited. They stemmed the Cavaliers' defensive momentum with a flurry of cheap fouls that put Maryland in the double bonus with just under twelve minutes to play, helping Maryland steadily chip away at the Virginia lead until it was whittled down to 61-57 with just over four minutes remaining. Salt flew in from nowhere to slam home a Guy miss to make it 63-57, then after Maryland freshman and should-be-a-Hoo Aaron Wiggins countered with a jumper in the lane, Jerome stuck the dagger:
Maryland's freshman guard Eric Ayala could only make one of two free throws on the next trip down for the Terrapins, and the Cavaliers used a pair of dunks from Salt and Hunter to go up by 10 with 1:33 to play. Late threes by Maryland could only make it look closer than it was at that point, as Braxton Key went 3-4 from the line and Jerome hit a pair of free throws. Blocked shots by Key and Hunter helped seal the win.
This game broke some trends. In both the Dayton and Wisconsin games, a first half of relative offensive diversity was followed up with an extremely conservative second half of primarily Sides. Against Maryland, however, the second half was called similarly to the first. Of 28 possessions before end-of-game situations, the Hoos ran Sides exclusively in 11 for 15 points, a spread variation in 7 for 10 points, and switched from one to the other in 3 empty possessions. An additonal 4 transition possessions yielded 6 points. Ball screens remained a staple of the second half offense and produced most of the points. While ball screens were used on almost every possession, in 6 possessions they led to the final play, for 12 points (2-4 Sides, 4-6 spread). Five second-half possessions included offensive rebounds for 8 points (3-6 after Sides, 2-2 after spread).
Virginia was out-rebounded by 12, BUT actually scored more second-chance points, 14-8. Points in the paint were even at 34, with Maryland dominating the first half at 26-12 and Virginia dominating the second, 22-8. The Cavaliers shot well from the arc in the first half, 8-16; the Terrapins scorched the nets in the second, 6-11. Three of Maryland's thre-pointers came in the last minute, when the only one they didn't make was the one Hunter blocked.
Virginia out-scored Maryland 12-7 with Marco Anthony on the floor.
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