CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Rescue operations commenced at University Hall last night, and just when Maryland needed it most, Keith Booth saved the day -- if not the season.
The 6-foot-5 power forward from Baltimore spirited a decisive second-half rally as the Terps leveled Virginia, 80-72, in a must-win Atlantic Coast Conference game for both teams.
Booth scored a season-high 27 points -- 19 in the second half and 16 in a searing, seven-minute stretch -- to deliver Maryland's first road win of the ACC season after three losses.
Booth played what coach Gary Williams called the best offensive game of his three-year Maryland career, hitting nine of 16 shots, pulling down a season-high 16 rebounds and passing for five assists.
"Keith Booth was incredible tonight," Williams said after the Terps (10-7, 3-4) moved past Duke (3-5) into fifth place in the ACC standings. "We've been trying to get him to shoot more because teams have been laying off him."
Johnny Rhodes gave Maryland a thunderous one-two punch. The senior guard hit eight of 12 shots for 21 points and had seven steals to move past the 300 career mark in thefts.
Duane Simpkins and Mario Lucas each contributed 12 points for Maryland, and the Terps went to a gimmick, triangle-and-two defense to contain Virginia's backcourt of Harold Deane (11 points) and Curtis Staples (14 points on only six shots).
"We were watching the Georgia Tech-Virginia game and saw how it [the triangle-and-two] disrupted the Virginia offense," Simpkins said. "That's how we got that 10-point lead."
Virginia, even more desperate than Maryland, lost its fifth straight game and sixth of seven. The Cavaliers (7-10, 2-6)
squeaked through a tight first half with a 31-30 lead and went up by six with 13 minutes left in the game after a pair of thunderous dunks by Jamal Robinson.
Robinson, with a career-high 29 points, turned lob passes from Deane into a 43-37 Virginia lead. That got the crowd of 7,336 into the game for the first time and gave the Cavaliers their most momentum of the game.
But it was short-lived, and Booth saw to it.
After Simpkins hit a three-pointer, Booth scored 16 of the Terps' next 22 points. He accounted for 11 points in a 17-2 run that turned a 47-42 deficit into a 59-49 lead, and Virginia never recovered.
What had appeared to be Virginia's gain with Robinson's power moves turned out to be the critical swing in momentum for Maryland.
Simpkins saw the difference right away.
"For the first time when a team made a run against us, we weren't looking around [and wondering who would stop it]," he said. "We just went down on offense and started to score."
Mostly, it was Booth, who has become Maryland's best clutch player.
"All players want to step up in a situation like that," said the former Dunbar standout, whose career-high game was a 33-point effort against Rider in 1993. "This was a great win for us, just to get a win against a Virginia team that was struggling. This was a must-win game for them, too."
Booth's game is a power game, but last night he showed a shooting touch that had been missing much of his college career. He hit a three-point shot to finish off the 17-2 run.
"Booth got hot in the second half," said Virginia coach Jeff Jones. "Once one [jumper] went in, the second one came easier, and then it just snow-balled."
Said Booth: "I was getting open shots. When I hit two of them, I felt like I wasn't going to stop."
Rhodes appreciated Booth's long-range prowess as much as anyone.
"The key to all that was he never hesitated on one shot," Rhodes said. "When he starts hesitating, that's when he makes it difficult for himself."
Said Simpkins: "He stepped up big time. If he hits like that, we can go a long way."
Consider it a successful rescue mission for Maryland.
Next for Terps
Opponent: Georgia Tech Site:
Cole Field House, College Park
Time: Noon tomorrow
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Record: 13-9 overall, 6-2 in ACC