CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Gary Williams used some unique motivation on his University of Maryland basketball team going into its final game of the season yesterday against Virginia. Call it perverse psychology.
Allow senior guard Matt Roe to explain.
"Coach told us that only a few teams can go out with a win: the team that wins the NCAA tournament, the team that wins the NIT and teams who don't have a chance to go," said Roe. "We had a great season, and we wanted to go out on a good note."
The Terrapins didn't merely go out on a positive note. They wrote a wonderful final chapter into this remarkable season, coming from 13 points behind in the second half to beat the No. 25 Cavaliers, 78-74, in overtime at University Hall.
After missing the front end of a one-and-one with 19 seconds remaining in regulation and the score tied at 67, Cedric Lewis secured the first Atlantic Coast Conference road victory this year for Maryland (16-12, 5-9) with three free throws in the final 56 seconds of overtime.
"I didn't want to end my senior year by missing a free throw to cost us a game," said Lewis. "It would have been on my mind a long time."
As badly as Maryland played in the first half -- missing 24 of 34 shots from the field, getting hammered on the boards (24-15) and trailing by 12 (39-27) -- Virginia (20-10, 6-8) played worse in the second half and in overtime.
The Cavaliers shot 10 of 41 in the final 25 minutes, and missed their last nine shots after John Crotty's 18-footer gave Virginia a 65-61 lead with 2 minutes, 41 seconds to go in regulation. But Crotty fouled out 19 seconds later, and his departure helped the Terps charge back.
"We thought if we could get [Bryant] Stith or Crotty out of the game, we might have a chance," said Gary Williams, who went to a 1-2-2 matchup zone early in the second half because of foul trouble on Walt Williams and Vince Broadnax, then stayed with it when the Cavaliers went cold. "As it turned out, Crotty fouled out, and that helped us."
So did the first technical foul of Jeff Jones' head-coaching career. The first-year Virginia coach picked an inopportune time to get it. After Roe (18 points) put Maryland ahead on the first possession of overtime, Jones was called for the technical when he argued that Anthony Oliver was bumped going for a layup.
"That [the technical] was stupid," said Jones, whose team goes into Friday's ACC tournament with six defeats in its last nine games, including six of seven in the league. "We didn't need a technical at that point in the game. But it was deserved."
Walt Williams, who came off the bench with a team-high 21 points and eight rebounds, made both technical free throws for a 71-67 lead. After a free throw by Ted Jeffries, two more free throws by Williams extended Maryland's lead to 73-68.
But with the Terps struggling in their spread offense, the Cavaliers pulled to within a point on four straight free throws before Lewis was fouled going up for a dunk with 56 seconds to go. A crowd of 8,864 was trying its best to distract Lewis, a 59 percent free-throw shooter.
"I knew I couldn't think about the one I missed [in regulation]," said Lewis, who made the front end of a two-shot opportunity. "I just took my time. After I missed the second shot, I was just hoping they would come down and miss."
Lewis' wish came true. Stith made one of his patented baseline spins, but Lewis stepped in front to make the 6-6 forward alter his shot. Lewis got the rebound, was fouled and made two free throws with 28 seconds left. Stith then bowled over Evers Burns, but got two free throws to cut Virginia's deficit to two with 17 seconds remaining.
The Cavaliers inexplicably allowed Maryland to run 15 seconds off the clock and then fouled Roe, an 80 percent free-throw shooter. Roe made both shots and as Stith (23 points on six-of-21 shooting) was missing a three-pointer at the buzzer, the Maryland players doused Gary Williams with a bucket of ice water.
"I liked our coming back from 13 down," said Williams, who also got a technical early in the game. "Walt Williams played most of the second half with four fouls. And I was glad to see Cedric Lewis in there making those foul shots in overtime. I was really happy for the seniors. They've been through a lot. They're not getting a chance to do what others do."
For the first time all season, the talk in the post-game locker room centered around the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament and the sanctions that will keep the Terps from any post-season competition this year and next. With five victories in the ACC -- four of them against teams likely to be in the 64-team field -- Maryland might have had a chance.
Instead, the Terps will go back to College Park with the satisfaction that comes from a winning season, something few predicted. "It's definitely a great way to end the season," said Lewis. "We wish we could be in the NCAAs, but we knew coming into the season that we would have 28 games. Today was our NCAA game, and we made the best of it."
A little perverse psychology works every time.