COLLEGE PARK -- A Maryland team that had spent part of the past month losing close games to nationally ranked teams returned to its bench Sunday at Comcast Center, teetering toward another frustrating defeat.
There was confusion about the way the Terps had played in the final minute of regulation, which ended with No. 5 Virginia forcing overtime on a lob jumper off an inbounds play with less than a second remaining.
There was anger, pent up from other close losses in Atlantic Coast Conference play to then-No. 8 Duke and then-No. 4 Syracuse in February and -- most recently -- from a double-overtime defeat at Clemson a week before.
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Yet, for the first time this season, there was also resolve.
Sophomore guard Seth Allen scored the first five points in overtime and led the Terps to a stunning 75-69 victory in the last ACC regular-season game Maryland will play before moving to the Big Ten next season.
“At the very end of regulation, I told Dez [Wells] that we were not going to lose,” said Allen, who shot seven of 17 from the field. “He looked at me and he said, ‘We have to take over,’ and that’s what we tried to do.”
Allen finished with 20 points for Maryland (17-14 overall, 9-9 in ACC), while junior guard Dez Wells scored all but two of his 18 points in the second half and overtime. The victory broke a 13-game winning streak for Virginia (25-6, 16-2).
The Terps, seeded eighth in the ACC tournament, next will play No. 9 seed Florida State in the second round at noon Thursday at Greensboro Coliseum. The winner will face Virginia, the top seed, at noon Friday in the quarterfinals.
Playing Sunday before a sellout crowd of 17,950 for only the second time this season -- with longtime coach Gary Williams sitting courtside for the first time since he retired -- the Terps finally made the plays that have eluded them for much of the season.
“It’d been devastating had we lost another one, Clemson was about as devastating as it gets,” Turgeon said. “We had to walk up three flights of stairs [at Littlejohn Coliseum], and it felt like 100 after that game.”
It would have felt like an even longer walk had Maryland not finished with a victory, and Turgeon is not sure he would of made it back to his locker room intact. Instead of the students storming the court in celebration, Turgeon joked: “If we had lost, they probably would have run over me.”
The Terps nearly gave away the game after taking a 62-58 lead with 2:39 left in regulation.
Maryland appeared to panic, as it has done in close games, as Wells missed a 3-pointer and was stripped, and sophomore forward Jake Layman barely hit the front rim with 27 seconds to go as the shot clock was expiring.
“We make it really hard on ourselves,” Turgeon said.
After a pair of free throws by Layman gave Maryland a 64-61 lead with four seconds to play in regulation, Turgeon went against his normal coaching strategy by fouling Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon, who made the first free throw and purposely missed the second.
“I don’t ever foul, but it’s been the strangest year I’ve ever been a part of,” Turgeon said after the game. “I said, ‘I’m going to do things backwards because we haven’t won any close games.’ I thought by fouling we’d win. You got to come up with the rebound, and we didn’t, and they came up with a great play.”
Wells inadvertently tipped the potential rebound out of bounds to set up an inbounds play with a little more than one second left. When a jumper Virginia forward Anthony Gill off a lob pass tied the game at 64 with 0.5 seconds remaining, the crowd that was on the verge of celebrating was deflated.
The mood of the fans was matched by that of Turgeon and his players on the bench.
“Our guys were down, we were down, I was down,” Turgeon said. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But all the stuff we’ve been through has made us a lot tougher, it’s going to help us in the future. I said, ‘Guys, let’s make this the best five minutes of the year. They didn’t believe me the first time I said, but I must have said it 15 times. I think we did. We were tremendous in overtime.”
It didn’t surprise Virginia coach Tony Bennett after watching the Terps nearly pull out a comeback victory from a double-digit deficit a few weeks ago in Charlottesville, Va.
“Maryland’s talented and they’ve been close,” said Bennett, whose Cavaliers had not played in over a week, since clinching the school’s first outright ACC regular season championship in more than 30 years. “You could see when we got it going and we didn’t have enough to pull away.”
Instead, it was the Terps who pulled away in overtime. After Virginia answered Allen's 5-0 run to start overtime with a three-point play by reserve forward Evan Nolte, Layman’s four free throws finally gave Maryland some separation and Turgeon some relief.
The last order the third-year coach gave came after the fans had stormed the court.
“There was a student who was getting trampled, she got caught underneath the chair,” Turgeon said. “I’ve got a really loud voice and I actually had a little pull out there today ... I yelled, ‘Stop,’ and everybody stopped. So I kind of felt pretty cool to be honest with you.”
The students were not the only ones who followed orders.
On a happy and historic afternoon, his team did, too.