COLLEGE PARK - When Maryland made one final and desperate run against Wake Forest last week, cutting a once-29-point deficit to 13, the Terrapins' lineup primarily featured starting small forward Nik Caner-Medley and reserves Sterling Ledbetter, Mike Jones, Will Bowers and James Gist.
With most of his starters struggling again in the first half of Saturday's 80-69 victory over Temple, Terps coach Gary Williams opted for the same five and the result was a 10-2 run that gave Maryland its first lead of the afternoon.
Then as the game was still up for grabs, Williams closed with starters Caner-Medley, point guard John Gilchrist and forward Travis Garrison, along with Jones and Bowers. Caner-Medley scored a career-high 35 points, but without Jones' outside shooting and Bowers' inside presence, the Terps might have lost a third straight.
"It's good to see," Williams said. "That's really important to us. I think we have a pretty good bench right now but we've needed them. We've had more injuries this year than we've had combined in two years."
When the Terps (10-4, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) face Virginia (9-5, 0-4) tonight at Comcast Center, they could again be without starting shooting guard Chris McCray, who sat out the Temple game with a bruised tailbone. McCray participated in some drills Monday and was expected to do the same again yesterday.
Williams said he's hopeful McCray will be able to give the Terps some minutes. Sophomore D.J. Strawberry, who replaced McCray in the starting lineup Saturday, hurt his knee in Monday's practice and his status is also questionable for tonight.
"You have injuries and you expect certain guys to step up," said Jones, a sophomore guard, who called his 21-point effort against Temple a big confidence booster. "This is definitely a big week for myself and the rest of the team. ... Coach has given all of us a chance to show what we can do and we've done what we've had to, and hopefully, we'll continue to do that."
Jones, a McDonald's All-American in high school, played 13 minutes against the Demon Deacons and 19 against Temple after not playing double-digit minutes in a game since Dec. 12.
His classmate, Bowers, a 7-foot-1 sophomore center, was logging under 10 minutes through eight games, but has earned about 13 minutes a contest since. In his past five games, the Archbishop Spalding alum, who has clearly benefited from not having to compete with recent transfer Hassan Fofana for minutes, is averaging 3.6 points and 4.8 rebounds.
"Let's face it: Will didn't set the world on fire as a high school player and then all of a sudden, you're in the ACC and it takes time," Williams said. "I really get a kick out of people judging Mike Jones and Will Bowers their freshman year and not giving them a chance to be college players. They are 14 games into their sophomore year and I think they are doing really well."
Bowers' career-high 22 minutes against Temple came at the expense of starting center Ekene Ibekwe. The sophomore has been in single digits in points and rebounds in the past four games and Williams expects more from Ibekwe.
"He's 6-9, he's got to bang, he's got to get rebounds, he's got to block shots," the coach said. "I just want him to be really active and I don't think he's been very active."
The Terps have beaten Virginia in 10 of the past 14 meetings and have won 10 of the past 11 matchups in College Park.
Pete Gillen's Cavaliers won eight of their first nine games this season, including a surprising 18-point victory over then-No. 10 Arizona.
However, injuries have slowed leading scorer Devin Smith and freshman point guard Sean Singletary and at least contributed to Virginia losing four of five games, renewing talk about Gillen's job security in Charlottesville.
To Gilchrist, the key to winning tonight is pretty simple.
"Basically, just playing smarter than them," the junior said. "You know Virginia goes on runs, but next thing you know, the [other] team will go on a major run and just crush them. That's what you have to do with Virginia.
"They are going to hit a couple of shots and they are going to get all excited, but when the adrenaline comes back down, that's when we are going to have to be steady and disciplined."
Matchup: Virginia (9-5, 0-4) vs. Maryland (10-4, 1-2)
Site: Comcast Center, College Park
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 12