CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia and its coach, Jeff Jones, have been in trouble all season because they've become a two-man team. When one of them disappeared in the second half last night, Maryland found its game and closed its Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season schedule with a 74-66 victory over the Cavaliers.
In what might have Jones' last game at University Hall -- there is rampant speculation that he will be fired at the end of this season -- Virginia's offense in the first 11 minutes of the second half consisted of five points by Norman Nolan. Over one nine-minute stretch, Maryland wrested command by outscoring Virginia 19-3.
Nolan, a senior forward who dueled former Dunbar High teammate Rodney Elliott, did his part on Senior Night, as he scored 26 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but Maryland coach Gary Williams was delighted with the work his backcourt defenders did on Curtis Staples.
The senior gunner entered the game with 403 career three-pointers, six shy of the NCAA record. He had a pair of threes and 12 points in the first half, as Virginia took a 34-28 lead into the intermission, but he was shut out in the first 18 minutes of the second, thanks primarily to the work of senior guards Sarunas Jasikevicius and Matt Kovarik. Staples finished with 17 points, including three three-pointers.
It was Maryland's third game in six days, a stretch that began with a loss to Wake Forest in which the Demon Deacons hit 15 threes.
"That was the whole game," said Williams, whose Terps gave up seven threes to Staples in the teams' first meeting this year, a 77-70 Maryland win. "We spent a lot of time the past two days on preparing for Staples. Matt and Sarunas did a good job, and we got real good help on the screens Virginia sets for him."
The Terps (17-9, 10-6) had clinched third place in the ACC with last Saturday's win over Georgia Tech. The Terps conclude the regular season Saturday (1 p.m.) at the Baltimore Arena with a nonconference game against Temple, then open the ACC tournament March 6.
It's the sixth time in Maryland history that it reached 10 wins in the ACC.
Virginia (11-17, 3-12), which broke an eight-game losing streak last Saturday, when it upset Clemson, is back on track for its worst finish in over 30 years.
The best balanced lineup in the ACC had all five starters in double figures. Elliott led the way with 14 points, forward Laron Profit added 13, center Obinna Ekezie had 12, Jasikevicius had all 12 of his in the second half and point guard Terrell Stokes had 10 points and eight assists.
The game turned in the first seven minutes of the second half, when the Cavaliers scored two lonesome points, on a Nolan dunk off a feed from Donald Hand. Maryland wasn't exactly a model of efficiency at the offensive end, but the Terps jumped on that lapse to put together a decisive 13-0 run that turned a 36-30 deficit into a 43-36 lead.
The surge began with a three-point play by Stokes and concluded with an Elliott dunk after a steal by Profit. Profit put the Terps ahead for good with 16: 06 left on a feed from Stokes.
After Nolan broke the Cavaliers' -- and his -- drought of baskets that reached seven minutes, Maryland freshman Terence Morris gave the crowd a reminder of his athleticism with a steal and coast-to-coast, reverse dunk that made amends for an earlier missed slam. Profit went dealing in the lane and his 14-footer got the lead up to 49-39 with 9: 20 left.
Chezley Watson finally got Nolan some help at the offensive end, as he drove for a basket with 8: 44 left. Nolan's follow basket had the Cavaliers down 55-50 heading into the final five minutes, but the Terps responded with a three by Jasikevicius, a foul-line jumper by Ekezie and a three-point play by Jasikevicius to get the gap to 63-50. The Cavaliers got within 70-66 on another follow basket by Nolan in the waning seconds.
Williams didn't like the officiating in the first half, when the Terps were called for 11 fouls to the Cavaliers' six, but Maryland didn't go inside enough to get to the line. Reliant on mid-range jumpers, the Terps made only 34.4 percent of their tries (11-for-32) in the half.
Profit had no luck with the officials, as he was charged with a technical in the fourth minute, and drew his second and third fouls within a five-second span in the 12th minute.
Maryland got within 22-20 on Ekezie's short jumper from the right baseline on its next possession, but Virginia went ahead 32-24 on a 10-4 run that ended with sophomore Chris Hunter's dunk off a pass from Nolan. Jasikevicius missed three straight jumpers in that stretch, and when the Terps finally got a shot inside, it was by point guard Kovarik, whose attempt was swatted aside.
A free throw by Kovarik and a three by Stokes in transition trimmed the difference to 32-28 with 2: 01 left, but the only scoring in the rest of the half came on two free throws by Staples.
NOTES: Morris nearly had a spectacular round-house dunk from the foul line in the 13th minute, and the ball came off the back of the rim with such force it rebounded to midcourt on one bounce. Profit had clinched the ACC steals title coming in. He had 47 in the Terps' first 15 games, and second place in the conference ZTC was 28. He had one last night. Nolan was accompanied in the pre-game Senior Night ceremony by his mother, Vanessa Roberts, and his stepfather, Sam Robertson. Chase Metheny, the Cavaliers' 7-4 junior center, missed his third straight game with a hip injury.
Pub Date: 2/25/98