CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Maybe the University of Maryland basketball team will change the ending to this script when it returns to University Hall next season. Maybe the Terrapins won't leave themselves with another double-digit deficit to Virginia, or won't run out of gas after another furious second-half comeback.
For the second straight visit here, Maryland gave the Cavaliers a huge scare last night, but nothing more. The 21st-ranked Terps saw a 14-point deficit with less than 10 minutes left turn into a tie game with 4:36 to go, then watched as Virginia pulled away for a 73-66 victory.
It was the second straight defeat in the Atlantic Coast Conference for Maryland (12-5, 5-3), marking the first time this season that the Terps have lost two in a row. The victory moved Virginia (12-5, 6-2) into sole possession of second place behind Duke.
"There's no quit in this team," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team had also cut a 12-point deficit to five by halftime. "We came back. We played hard. We're not shooting as well as we were a few weeks ago. We're not running our offense as well."
One more thing: Freshman sensation Joe Smith finally is playing like a freshman. The 6-foot-10 center saw his shooting slump continue against the Cavaliers, as he missed 16 of 19 shots (including at least five that were blocked) to finish with 10 points.
Smith had 12 rebounds, but was not a force at the defensive end (two blocks).
Smith's night was summed up on one crucial late possession. With his team trailing 64-63 with 3 1/2 minutes left, Smith went up for an uncontested six-footer in the lane, but the ball went halfway down before spinning out. It was a night when Smith missed more layups than he had all season.
"It's frustrating," said Smith, who after shooting 60 percent and averaging 22 points through his first five ACC games, has made only 10 of 40 shots and scored 35 points in his past three. "It seemed to be happening all night; balls would go in and out."
But Smith had plenty of company in his shooting misery against the ACC's best defensive team. After shooting a season-low 35.9 percent against Duke, the Terps fired up even more blanks against the Cavaliers, finishing 23 of 73 (31.5 percent).
It was Maryland's three-point shooting down the stretch (eight of 17 overall) that fueled the comeback. Trailing 58-44 with 9:57 to go, and still behind 63-53 with 7:45 left, the Terps scored 10 straight points. A fast-break layup by sophomore forward Exree Hipp (17 points, nine rebounds) tied the score at 63.
"We were a couple of bounces away from being in a lot of trouble," said Virginia coach Jeff Jones, alluding to shots by Hipp and Smith that bounced out. "They had a couple of chances to take the lead. If they had, it would have been a big blow to us psychologically and a big lift for them."
The Cavaliers never relinquished the lead. The key possession of the game came after freshman guard Harold Deane pushed Virginia ahead by three, 66-63. Dribbling in traffic, Maryland point guard Duane Simpkins was tied up and called the team's last timeout with 2:40 to play.
(The Terps were caught short because Hipp inexplicably had called a timeout with 16.2 seconds left in the first half, leaving them with only one in the second half.)
After the timeout, Simpkins lost the ball to Deane and fouled Junior Burrough as the junior forward hit a 10-footer with 1:52 to go. Burrough had a career night, finishing with 26 points, 13 rebounds and six of Virginia's 13 blocks.
"I made a couple of dumb decisions and that's where the game got out of hand," said Simpkins, who wound up fouling out with 51 seconds to play, after failing to score in double figures (seven points) for the first time this season in the ACC.
Said sophomore guard Johnny Rhodes: "It's hard when you have to cut a big deficit like we did tonight. I think we just got tired and the shots that we were hitting to get us back stopped falling."