After upsetting one of the top teams in the country - and most-hated rivals - the only thing separating Maryland from a raising an ACC championship banner to the rafters of the Comcast Center is a victory over a Virginia team that hasn’t won in more than a month.
The surprising Terrapins insist there won’t be a letdown.
No. 22 Maryland looks to win a share of its first league championship in eight years Saturday when it visits the reeling Cavaliers, who try to avoid losing nine in a row for the first time in nearly a half-century.
The Terrapins (22-7, 12-3) moved into a first-place tie atop the ACC with an impressive 79-72 win over No. 4 Duke on Wednesday. It marked Maryland’s sixth straight victory since a 77-56 loss to the same Blue Devils team just 2 1/2 weeks earlier. The winning streak began with an 85-66 home win over Virginia on Feb. 15.
Senior Greivis Vasquez had 30 points on 12 of 19 shooting in that game against the Cavaliers, and finished with a team-high 20 points Wednesday. He hit a clutch basket with 37 seconds left as Maryland closed the game on a 10-3 run.
“You couldn’t really ask for a better script than that,” Terrapins senior Eric Hayes said. “The ACC regular-season title was on the line; it was just a real special night.”
With a victory over Virginia (14-14, 5-10), Maryland can finish no worse than tied atop the standings with Duke, which closes at home against North Carolina on Saturday. The Terps haven’t finished in first place since 2002, when they won the NCAA tournament.
“We just have to make sure we go out there and get another win,” senior Landon Milbourne said. “That’s one of the things coach (Gary Williams) was talking about for this group right here - to get another banner put up. That’s a big goal, and that’s something we can get.”
Not bad for a team picked to finish fifth in a preseason poll of the ACC media.
“Preseason rankings don’t mean much,” said Hayes, who is averaging 13.8 points on 60.0 percent shooting in the last four games. “If you work hard and believe in the guys on your team, you can do anything. So, it’s one of those things where we’re working hard and it’s been paying off.”
Virginia, meanwhile, was picked to finish 11th in the 12-team conference, and that prediction is proving to be pretty accurate after a surprising fast start.
The Cavaliers, 10th in the ACC, are coming off Wednesday’s 68-55 loss to Boston College, their eighth straight defeat since a 59-47 victory over North Carolina State on Feb. 3. Virginia, which also lost eight in a row last season, hasn’t dropped nine consecutive games since Jan. 13-Feb. 19, 1962.
A sputtering offense is one of the biggest reasons for the Cavaliers’ struggles. Virginia, last in the conference in scoring with an average of 66.0 points, is averaging just 53.0 points on 36.9 percent shooting in its last five games.
Sylven Landesberg averages a team-best 17.3 points, but has been held to 13 or fewer in four of his last five. The sophomore guard had 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting against Maryland a few weeks ago.
“I wish I could tell the guys what to do,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “We’ll keep taking those shots. All we can do is keep on fighting.”
This scuffling offense will likely have trouble keeping up with a high-powered Terrapins team that leads the ACC in scoring at 80.0 points per game.