Charlottesville, VA It was a scene nearly 6 years in the making.
Following Maryland’s 74-68 victory over Virginia Saturday, the Cavaliers held a “meet and greet” event on the floor of John Paul Jones Arena with new football coach Mike London. Fans were invited to come to the floor to meet the new chief of the Wahoos, and the rest of the coaches who will make up his staff.
And while hundreds of Virginia fans stuck around to take the school up on the opportunity, there was a side effect that certainly was not intended.
With a few thousand Maryland fans having made the journey from the Baltimore and Washington areas to Charlottesville, there were also hundreds of Terps fans on the floor, waiting to celebrate with their team.
Despite the fact that the Terps nearly let a double-digit second half lead COMPLETELY slip away against Virginia, those fans couldn’t wait to enjoy the first celebration of a conference championship (either regular season or ACC Tournament) since the Terps were able to cut down the nets in 2004 in Greensboro. The celebration lasted some 30 mintues until the players were escorted from the floor so they could return to College Park.
The six years it took to reach that celebration may well have been the most trying for Maryland fans and those inside the program alike since Gary Williams took over in 1989.
Entering the 2004-2005 season, the Maryland program was coming off 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and following a run to an ACC Tournament championship-there was a real feeling that the Terps were poised for a third run to the Final Four in five seasons. John Gilchrist was a preseason candidate to win both ACC Player of the Year and National Player of the Year.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
The 2004-2005 season was instead overshadowed by a troubling relationship between Gilchrist and Williams, one that would eventually end with a trip to the NIT Tournament and a departure from Gilchrist-who went unselected in the NBA Draft. The Terps lost 3 games to a dreadful Clemson team during the stretch, including an opening round loss in the ACC Tournament at Verizon Center.
The 2005-2006 season was even more troubling. Despite lowered expectations, the Terps showed signs of life early in the season, before losing Chris McCray for the second semester due to academic ineligibility. The season was also marked by great disappointment from junior Mike Jones, who failed to live up to the hype surrounding his McDonald’s All-American status. The season ended with a second straight trip to the NIT Tournament, where the Terps were eliminated at home in Round 1.
The 2006-2007 season included a return to the NCAA Tournament, but Maryland failed to advance past the first weekend of the Tournament for the 4th consecutive season. The season was highlighted by the tremendous development of guard DJ Strawberry and an upset win over North Carolina at Comcast Center, but ended when they were upset by an upstart Butler team.
The 2007-2008 season was expected to be a rebuilding campaign, but the Terps put themselves in position to return to the NCAA Tournament thanks to a stunning January win over North Carolina at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Those dreams would again be dashed by the Clemson Tigers, who rallied from down 20 points in the 2nd half to win on a Terrence Oglesby 3 point jumper in the closing seconds. The Terps were forced to go on the road in the NIT Tournament, where they lost in Round 2. The season was also marked by very public signs of academic trouble, as a 0% graduation report and low academic progress report greeted the team as they reported for Midnight Madness.
The 2008-2009 season was served as a turning point for the program, but not before an unreal amount of tension and controversy surrounded Gary Williams and AD Debbie Yow. Debates over the recruitment of players like Bobby Maze, Tyree Evans, Gus Gilchrist and Lance Stephenson caused friction inside the athletic department, and lead to a number of fans calling for Gary Williams’ or Debbie Yow’s job. The troubles in the program were documented by high profile stories in the Washington Post, and forced Debbie Yow to give Gary an uncomfortable “vote of confidence” at a winter press conference.
But with everything swirling around the program, the team rallied late in the ACC season to defeat North Carolina again at Comcast Center. They defeated Wake Forest in the ACC Torunament, and were able to return to the NCAA Tournament. The season ended with a blowout loss to Memphis in the 2nd round of the Tournament, but the Terps laid the groundwork for a successful 2009-2010 campaign; and were given a boost when Greivis Vasquez decided to return for his final season of eligibility.
But as of Saturday afternoon, that troubling run ended. The trio of Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne were not only finally able to win a game in Charlottesville, they also were able to finally call themselves champions; an honor that will be recognized with a banner that will hang in the rafters at Comcast Center for the entirety of Maryland basketball’s future.
The accomplishment wasn’t lost on Gary Williams following the game. “I thought about it, so I’m sure the players thought about it. It’s great for them, because we went through a lot of things to get to here. We had to survive some things last year, we did that.” He added “I was really pleased with the way the team came together, but I had a lot of help in terms of our seniors making that happen.”
Ultimately, that will be the mark of Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne. Instead of being remembered like John Gilchrist, Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray who all fell short of expectations in their final season; this group willed their way to an ACC regular season title, with the chance to do even more than that.
But should this Maryland team not win another game this season, they’ll always be remembered as champions, which is exactly what they deserve to be remembered as.
3:25-That’s it from Charlottesville. Maryland clinches at least a share of the ACC title with a 74-68 win over Virginia. Greivis Vasquez with a game high 23 to lead the way. I’ll be back with more shortly.
3:24-Really UNTHINKABLE for Tony Bennett to lose his cool like that. Maryland will take the gift. It’s an ACC title even if it isn’t pretty. Congratulations to Gary Williams and the Terps….
3:23-And just like that, this is a 2 possession game with 38.6 seconds to play. Talk about weathering the storm….
3:21-BOY the crowd in Charlottesville didn’t like that call. I’m on the opposite side of the arena and did NOT get a good look….
3:20-A GREAT play call, but an offensive foul, and Virginia has the chance to go ahead…
3:18-Boy, not what you’d expect from Vasquez in the games most important moments. Virginia cuts the Maryland lead to 66-65 with 1:36 to play, and Maryland has just one timeout remaining…
3:17-Williams makes just 1 of 2, but forces a big turnover with 2:36 to play. Time to work the clock I presume…
3:15-Virginia keeps it interesting by going to Meyinsse. Just…thank God for Greivis. Jordan Williams will be at the FT line in a big spot after the final media timeout of the first half.
3:13-He makes me eat my words quite a bit. Vasquez has come up huge here in the 2nd half….
3:12-The Virginia players are playing for pride, and have been gutty in doing so. A Will Sherrill 3 makes it 62-59 with 3:46 to play, and the Cavs call a timeout. Maryland is going to have to keep attacking, the Cavaliers are NOT going away.
3:11-Greivis Vasquez is just coming up HUGE in huge situations down the stretch. He has 16 now after that 3.
3:10-Eric Hayes can sure make a tough hoop. 59-54 Maryland with 5 minutes to play.
3:08-Jeff Jones (the former Maryland commit) with a BIG 3 to cut Maryland’s lead to 3, but Vasquez FINALLY breaks his scoring drought to answer with a 3.
Of course, there’s Jones again from outside. 57-54 Maryland. Gary Williams needs another timeout. Virginia playing with house money in the 2nd half, and Maryland has clearly gotten tense.
3:04-With 7:09 to play, this one is WAAAY too close. An Eric Hayes walk gives Virginia the ball back trailing just 53-48 in the second half. Maryland is going to have to go with their guys who are in foul trouble, as Virginia has gotten into a much too comfortable rhythm.
3:03-Yeah, I’m having Mamadi Diane flashbacks as I watch Jerome Meyinsse today. No doubt about that.
2:59-Gary Williams needs a timeout after a Will Sherrill hoop inside gets Virginia within 7 at 53-46. The crowd at JPJ Arena hasn’t been particularly spirited today, but they’re getting into it a bit right now.
2:58-3rd personal foul on Jordan Williams, 8th team foul on Maryland already here in the 2nd half. Cavs AGAIN cur the Maryland lead to 9, with under 9 minutes to play.
2:56-Greivis Vasquez isn’t exactly putting the ACC Player of the Year award on ice today….
2:48-8 points now for Sean Mosley, but he’s going to have to take a seat after picking up his 3rd personal foul. 5 team fouls after the most recent call against Adrian Bowie.
Maryland lead is back down to single digits after a 3 ball from Jeff Jones. Good defense from Jontel Evans on Vasquez, but ANOTHER big 3 from Bowie. Wow.
2:45-After Vasquez went off for 10 points to start today’s game, I said to our friend Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse on Twitter)…”he might go for 35 today.”
He hasn’t scored since then, and Virginia has clawed back within 10 of the Terps thanks to 11 from Zeglinski and 10 from Meyinsse.
2:42-Tonight’s North Carolina/Duke game will ultimately decide the OTHER half of the ACC regular season title picture (and the #1 seed for next week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro), and there’s no doubt that the Terps will be pulling for North Carolina. That being said, even if Maryland and Duke win today, just the accomplishment of sharing a title is a remarkable accomplishment for this Maryland team. The Terps haven’t even shared a regular season title since their national championship year (2001-2002), and the ACC Tournament title in 2004 is their only significant championship since then.
2:37-Virginia showing a little bit of life in the 2nd half, they cut the lead down to 9 before a Hayes hoop re-extended the advantage to 11.
As Bob Haynie pointed out on Twitter (follow us @WNST), it didn’t appear to be a particularly inspired effort from Maryland in the first half. They were guilty of the same thing a season ago here, and it cost them as they lost their regular season finale.
First media timeout of the 2nd half: 44-31 Terps with 15:55 to play.
2:36-A putback for Jordan Williams to open the 2nd half, I’m surprised the ball hasn’t ended up in his hands more today. He already has as many boards in the 2nd half (2) as he did in the first.
2:33-Vasquez has a game high 10; Tucker, Bowie, Milbourne and Hayes all have 5 for the Terps. 6 each for Jerome Meyinsse and Sammy Zeglinski to lead the Hoos at the break. Terps hold a 22-10 rebounding edge.
2:25-Check out the Virginia student section in the endzone today….
It might not be easy to tell, but the bulk of the sections on the left and the right are empty, and there are a number of Maryland fans who have infiltrated the section directly behind the band. An 8 game losing streak will hurt basketball excitement, there’s just no doubt about that. I guess you have to credit the fans in the upper deck, as the bulk of that level is actually full. A number of empty seats in the big money areas however.
2:19-After the over and back that gave Virginia the ball back, they couldn’t find a wide open Jontel Evans, and the score remains 38-27 at the half. I’ll be back shortly with more.
2:14-Mustapha Farrakhan was the beneficiary of Sylven Landesberg’s spot in the starting rotation, he has 4 points thus far. Tony Bennett also started some of his seniors to help celebrate Senior Day.
I don’t really love Dino Gregory continuing to step back for jumpers as much as he does, but I’d rather he hit them for sure. 4 for him already, 5 for Cliff Tucker, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne.
Sammy Zeglinski cans a 3, and Maryland’s lead is 38-27. Gary Williams calls his first timeout with 38.9 seconds to play to set up what he hopes to be the final possession of the half.
2:12-32-20 Maryland at the final official timeout of the first half. After Maryland jumped out to a 14-1 rebounding edge, Virginia has toughened up, it’s now a 19-8 advantage on the glass.
Vasquez hasn’t scored since posting his early 10 points, but has been distributing the ball just fine.
2:07-After 3 points early, Landon Milbourne has gone silent again. The lack of a natural position has really hurt him offensively this season.
2:04-5 points already for Adrian Bowie, who has played REALLY well over the last couple of weeks. Maybe the fans who were panicked over the idea of him starting next season after Eric Hayes graduates were being a bit overdramatic. 28-20 Terps with 6:15 to play in the half.
2:02-Obviously, this game took a dramatically different turn when it was announced that Cavs leading scorer Sylven Landesberg was suspended (academics) for today and the rest of the season. Virginia has struggled offensively in their hope to snap an 8 game losing streak.
2:00-The ‘Hoos have already tried a number of different defenders on Greivis Vasquez, they’ve all had an equal amount of success…..little to none.
Jeff Jones has 5 points for the Cavaliers….think he ever wonders why he chose UVa over the Terrapins?
1:58-Thanks to the Virginia IT staff for getting me online….today. Maryland is up 23-16 with 8:39 to play in the first half here at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. Greivis Vasquez has 10, and the Terps are just killing the Wahoos on the glass.