CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Maryland suffered only its third loss in 15 games yesterday, but Virginia gave the Terps plenty to think about as they prepare for this weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The Terps, sixth-ranked and bidding for their first regular-season ACC title in 15 seasons, fell behind early and fell apart during a nightmarish second half, as the No. 13 Cavaliers embarrassed them, 92-67, before 8,379 at University Hall.
Before a national television audience, the Terps took their hardest fall since losing to North Carolina by 36 points at the end of the 1992-93 season. They fell into the first four-way tie for the ACC regular-season title in the league's 41-year history, and blew a chance to get the top seed at the Greensboro Coliseum, where the ACC tournament begins Thursday night with the Duke-North Carolina State play-in game.
Wake Forest was awarded first and the top seed by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker among the four teams. Because of that tiebreaker, Maryland (23-6, 12-4) will be the No. 3 seed, and will face No. 6 Florida State in a quarterfinal Friday at 9:30 p.m.
About the only good Maryland news to emerge from yesterday's one-sided affair -- besides sophomore Player of the Year candidate Joe Smith's hard-earned, game-high 25 points -- was the latest health report on coach Gary Williams. Stricken with pneumonia at Washington Adventist Hospital since Tuesday, Williams' condition was upgraded from fair to good yesterday.
Williams, whose release date has not been determined, could not have enjoyed watching his team go from bad to worse against the Cavaliers. Assistant Billy Hahn, who has filled in for Williams for the past two games, played the role of spin doctor while sizing up Maryland's worst performance of its best season under Williams.
"We've won 23 games this year and tied for first place in the ACC. Those are major accomplishments. I want to remind you how far Gary Williams has brought this program," Hahn said.
Then, he added, "We have to turn this into a positive. We have to watch the tape, see all of the mistakes, all of the ugliness of this game, realize what we did wrong, and never do it again."
The Terps, who lost for the fourth straight time at Virginia (21-7, 12-4), have lots of cleaning up to do. For starters, they suffered a recurring problem in the front line, where a lack of support for the 6-foot-10 Smith hurt. Despite the attention paid to Smith -- and the always physical Cavaliers burned fouls liberally by using four players to hold him in check -- he made eight of 14 shots.
MA But Smith, who scored 16 of Maryland's 34 second-half points,
grabbed only five rebounds, none in the second half, when Virginia out-rebounded the Terps, 25-12 and burned them for 50 points. The team's three forwards, Exree Hipp, Keith Booth and Mario Lucas, combined for only 19 points. Hipp scored all seven of his points in the first half. Lucas scored only two of his nine points after the break. And Booth remained in a troubling slump. Forced to the bench again with two early fouls, he scored just three points in 20 minutes, while taking only one shot from the field.
Besides Smith, the Terps hit only 15 of 41 shots (36.7 percent)
"All they ask me to do is go out and play hard. I worry about defense first," said Booth, who has scored 35 points in his last six games. "I'm going to keep taking the ball to the hole. The shots will start falling."
The Terps' lack of production inside also carried over to the defensive end, where Virginia forward Junior Burrough exploited some sloppy man-to-man coverage down low for most of his team-high 24 points.
"It wasn't that my teammates weren't looking inside to get me the ball, it was the banging Virginia did to deny me the ball," said Smith. "We played awful. We were missing threes. We were missing layups. They were scoring with ease."
The Cavaliers, who won for the 15th time in 19 games and gained a share of the regular-season conference title, also dominated the Terps in the backcourt. Guards Harold Deane and Curtis Staples, who have become the most dangerous shooting tandem in the ACC lately, outscored Maryland's Duane Simpkins and Johnny Rhodes, 37-16.
Staples scored 18 points -- all on three-pointers -- with 12 coming in the second half. His last three-pointer gave Virginia a 74-53 lead with 7:35 left. Deane was spectacular while adding 19 points and 14 assists, nearly as many as the Terps (15).
"What we did was hustle and scrap," said Virginia coach Jeff Jones, whose team has recovered nicely from a rough December in which it lost home games to Ohio and Stanford, and then lost guard Cory Alexander last month to a broken ankle. "There weren't many pretty plays. I don't think we can play any tougher."
The warning signs showed early for the Terps, who are 7-6 on the road. When Booth went to the bench with two fouls four minutes into the game, the Cavaliers led, 9-8. Over the next nine minutes, Virginia went on an 18-9 run to take a 27-17 lead with 7:29 left in the half.
From there, five of Virginia's next six baskets came via layups. Virginia opened up a 34-21 lead with 4:38 left on a three-point play by Jason Williford. The Terps responded with an 8-0 run, which ended with a three-pointer by Smith to cut the margin to 34-29, but the Cavaliers pulled away to a 42-33 halftime lead. The Terps committed nine turnovers and had five shots blocked in the half.
The Cavaliers put the Terps on the ropes with an 14-4 run to start the second half. Staples hit two threes to end the run and give Virginia a 56-37 lead with 16:18 left. Virginia then knocked out Maryland with a 10-1 spurt midway through the half. After Deane drilled a 25-footer over Hipp to make it 71-53 with 8:24 left, Staples delivered his final three to put the game out of reach.
"We've got to learn from this game," Hahn said. "I'm sure our players aren't happy, and they respond pretty well after a rough game."
ACC AT A GLANCE FINAL STANDINGS
Team .. .. .. .. ..ACC .. .. .. .. .. ..Overall
Wake Forest .. ...12-4 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..21-5
N. Carolina .. ...12-4 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..22-4
Maryland .. .. ...12-4 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..23-6
Virginia .. .. ...12-4 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..21-7
Georgia Tech .. ...8-8 .. .. .. .. .. .. .18-11
Florida State .. .5-11 .. .. .. .. .. .. .12-14
Clemson .. .. .. .5-11 .. .. .. .. .. .. .15-11
N.C. State .. .. .4-12 .. .. .. .. .. .. .12-14
Duke .. .. .. .. .2-14 .. .. .. .. .. .. .12-17
At Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum
* (8) N.C. State vs.
# (9) Duke, 7:30 p.m.
* (4) Virginia vs.
(5) Georgia Tech, noon
* N.C. State-Duke winner vs.
(1) Wake Forest, 2:30 p.m.
* (2) North Carolina vs.
(7) Clemson, 7 p.m.
* (3) Maryland vs.
, (6) Florida State, 9:30 p.m.
/# * Semifinals, 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m.
* Championship game, 3 p.m.
( (Tournament bracket, 5C)