Maryland sophomore point guard John Gilchrist capped a 26-point performance with a put-back with three seconds remaining, after a critical steal and missed shot by freshman guard D.J. Strawberry, as the Terps stopped a two-game losing streak and avoided a tie for last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 71-67 victory.
The Terps (12-7, 3-5) reached the midpoint of their conference schedule in seventh place by hanging on against the Cavaliers (12-7, 2-6). Maryland, which missed 10 of 19 free throws in the final 10 minutes, saw senior center Jamar Smith foul out and lost sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley temporarily with an injury, still found a way to finish off Virginia.
The Terps got a huge lift from their bench. Freshman guard Mike Jones scored seven points. Freshman center Hassan Fofana grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and scored five points.
After taking a 43-36 halftime lead, Maryland, as it has done often this season, failed to start the second half with the same life, and quickly found itself trailing after surrendering a 10-2 run at the outset, as Virginia took a 46-45 lead on a layup by junior center Elton Brown.
But Maryland, which was forced to dig deep into its bench due to foul trouble, regained the lead at 56-54 with 9:26 left on a steal and a layup by Caner-Medley, who bruised his right quadriceps late in the first half and was in obvious pain in the second half.
"There were a lot of things riding on this game that I didn't want to talk to the team about. They know," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "This is how we play. This is how we have to play. It's never going to look pretty. If we're going to be good, we have to play this way."
Backup guards Strawberry and Jones helped the Terps maintain their lead down the stretch. Both of them were active on the glass, and both made enough free throws to keep the Terps on top. After making one of two foul shots, Strawberry converted a three-point play for a 60-54 lead with 7:06 left.
After a three by Virginia's J.R. Reynolds, Strawberry made one of two free throws. Jones followed with two free throws to make it 63-57 with 5:39 left.
Maryland took a 43-36 halftime lead, largely on the strength of 21 first-half points by Gilchrist, a former high school Player of the Year in Virginia. He returned to his home state and countered an excellent half by Brown, who scored 17 points before the break.
"My motivation came from the losing streak we've been on," Gilchrist said. "I just wanted to come out here and, more than anything else, get a win. The taste of losing is something I haven't been used to all my life. ... We had to come out with that type of urgency tonight."
Williams was appreciative of the point guard's effort.
"He was really tough tonight," Williams said. "John was the key with his leadership. That leadership is something this team needs from the point guard position. I really thought he was focused tonight."
The Terps did not exactly bolt to a strong start. Maryland committed four turnovers in the first four minutes and got out-rebounded by a 9-5 count while falling behind 12-5.
And the decision to reinsert sophomore forward Travis Garrison into the starting lineup backfired early. Garrison, who had played his best basketball of the season lately after coming off the bench for Ekene Ibekwe in the previous seven games, picked up his second foul just three minutes into the contest.
But suddenly, with Gilchrist providing the spark, Maryland went on a 21-2 run and took a 26-14 lead with 11:38 left in the first half. After Smith started the run with a slam, Gilchrist took over by scoring 12 of the Terps' next 16 points.
He made his first three from the left corner to cut the Virginia lead to 12-10. Then, after Chris McCray made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 12 and Ibekwe hit a 17-foot baseline jumper to give the Terps their first lead at 14-12 with 14:11 to go in the half, Gilchrist buried a three from the top of the key, then converted a three-point play - which he started with a steal of an inbounds pass and a great spin move near the basket - to make it 20-14.
Fofana kept the run going with a free throw, and Maryland's full-court pressure generated another turnover. Jones saved a loose ball and whipped a 20-foot pass to Gilchrist, who finished with a layup, making it 23-14 with 11:56 left in the half.
That prompted Virginia coach Pete Gillen to call his third timeout of the half. The Cavaliers failed to convert on their next possession, and Jones finished Maryland's run with a three-pointer from the top of the key.
But over the next five minutes, Maryland's offense broke down, while the Cavaliers cut into the Terps' lead with a 15-5 run. Brown, who was unstoppable at times in the low post, scored six points during the run, including four at the foul line. Brown's layup cut the lead to 31-27 with 7:09 left in the half. A 13-foot jumper by Reynolds made it 31-29 with 6:42 to go.
But Garrison came back off the bench to get Maryland rolling again, with his shooting and his work on the boards. Jones showed his floor game on defense and on the boards. And Gilchrist scored seven more points to fuel a half-ending, 12-7 spurt that gave the Terps a 43-36 lead at the break.
Garrison started the run with a free throw and an 18-footer. Jones added to it with a steal and a slam. It was all Gilchrist for the Terps after that. First, he made a difficult runner in the lane to make it 38-31. Then his two free throws made it 40-34 with 1:07 left.
Finally, after Brown stole an offensive rebound from McCray and scored on a jam with 30 seconds left, Gilchrist answered the taunts of the Virginia student section with a three-pointer from the top of the key with three seconds left.
Next for Terps
Matchup: Florida State (16-6, 4-4 ACC) vs. Maryland (12-7, 3-5)
Site: Comcast Center, College Park
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)