COLLEGE PARK -- The University of Maryland basketball team was about to go into its locker room at halftime last night trailing Virginia by only two points. The Terrapins fans in the crowd of 11,754 at Cole Field House were about to send their undermanned team on its merry way with a bouquet of cheers.
And then freshman forward Cornell Parker's 40-foot shot at the buzzer found the bottom of the net. Though it only counted for three points in what turned out to be a 14-point defeat, Maryland never found the magic or spirit it had played with for nearly all of the first half, and lost to the 14th-ranked Cavaliers, 76-62.
"They had the momentum after [Vince] Broadnax's shot [with five seconds left in the half], but when Cornell hit that long shot, the momentum was back in our hands," said Virginia forward Bryant Stith. "I think it broke their backs and after that, it was our night."
It didn't take much to shatter the fragile psyche of these Terps. Maryland was playing its first game since point guard Walt Williams, the team's leading scorer and by far its best player, suffered a fractured left fibula Saturday against Duke.
Only a stretch of 11 straight points against Virginia's reserves, which cut a 24-point deficit to 13 with 47 seconds to go, made the final score a little more respectable for Maryland (8-7, 1-4). It was the third straight Atlantic Coast Conference defeat for the Terps.
Asked whether Parker's three-point shot could have an adverse effect on a team, Maryland coach Gary Williams said: "It can. You have to play through that. A veteran team doesn't let that kind of thing bother them. Maybe we'll learn from that."
The Terps also will have to learn how to come out of their locker room a little more prepared for the second half. As has happened several times this season, Maryland was listless for the first five minutes of the half and the experienced Cavaliers took advantage.
"I don't know what happens to us, but we don't come out ready to play sometimes," said sophomore guard Kevin McLinton, who, along with junior Matt Downing, combined for 11 points, seven assists and only four turnovers at the point. "We can't do that against anybody, especially against a team like Virginia."
Virginia (11-3, 3-1), which played the first half as if it still were thinking about Saturday's double-overtime defeat to North Carolina, scored the first six points of the second half to move in front by 11. The Terps got it back to single digits once, but the Cavaliers then went on a 26-11 tear to go ahead, 71-47, with a little more than four minutes left.
"That was a very pleasing performance in the second half for us," said first-year Virginia coach Jeff Jones, whose team won for the ninth time in its past 10 games. "In the first half, Maryland really outplayed us. They played a lot harder than we did, even though we had the lead. I thought we did a better job defensively in the second half."
Especially on Maryland center Cedric Lewis, who had scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half and helped Maryland lead by 23-16 with 8:44 left in the half. Matt Roe led Maryland with 16 to reach 1,000 points for his college career. Stith led the Cavaliers with 16.
The late comeback turned what could have been a blowout into a semi-respectable rout, and forced Jones to bring back starters in the final minute, to the vocal disapproval of the crowd. Jones, who thought there was more time left on the clock, said he could see his team heading for trouble.
"It was a tough decision to go back to the starters, but with a 13-point lead and the three-point shot and a minute and a half left, I didn't want to take a chance at losing the game," said Jones.
Said Williams: "That doesn't bother me at all. It's much better to do that than lose the game."
As for what Maryland has to do to break its losing streak -- the Terps play Saturday at South Florida -- Williams is looking for a little more of a sustained effort from his Williams-less team.
"Sometimes it's easy to play when you're down a lot," he said. "We need to be able to play 40 minutes."
NOTES: Before the game, the public-address announcer said war had broken out in the Persian Gulf. The crowd was asked to stand in a moment of silence. . . . Lewis had 10 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 4 steals. The Terps' next ACC game is Jan. 26, at home against North Carolina State.