Scott German | Diane, ‘Hoos surprise Terps in finale, 68-63

It’s been a long trying season for Virginia on the hardwood, but Saturday afternoon the Cavaliers may have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Overcoming another horrendous start, Virginia dealt Maryland a crippling 68-63 defeat in Jon Paul Jones Arena. And fitting enough it was Maryland native Mamadi Diane delivering the lethal blow to the Terps.

Diane scored a game-high and season-high 23 points, including the game-winners on a three-pointer from top of the key with 38.5 seconds left. A pretty amazing feat considering the the only certainty the Potomac, Md., native new open awakening Saturday morning was that he would be a starter on Senior Day. Even that role was uncertain as late as Friday when Virginia coach Dave Leitao informed Diane that he indeed would get the start in his final home game of his career. Beyond that fact, Diane never allowed himself to think of any other possibilities, including drilling a shot that all but ended the Terps hopes of at at-large NCAA tourney bid. “I didn’t know what to expect from today’s game,” said Diane. “All I knew was that whatever playing time I got I was going to make the best of it.”

Virginia (10-17 overall, 4-12 ACC), limited to role of spoiler, needed Diane to come up big in the contest, and the 6-foot-5 guard did so from the get-go. Diane who made seven of 12 sots from the floor saved his biggest basket for the waning seconds. After building a 54-45 lead with 6:03 left, Virginia went cold from the floor and watched Maryland roar back to tie the game at 61-all with 1:45 left as Maryland’s Eric Hayes drilled a 25-foot trey.

After a timeout with 57 seconds remaining, Virginia’s Sylven Landesburg penetrated the paint and then zipped a pass back out to Diane at the top of the key, where the senior found nothing but net to put the Cavalier up 64-61. “All night, every time I got an open look from (three-point range), I just relaxed an let it go,” said Diane, whose previous high point total was 14 in the season opener against Virginia Military Institute. “As soon as Sylven drove to the basket, I knew I was going to get the pass and shot. It felt good letting it go.”

It has been a trying season for the Virginia captain. Diane sat out a four-game stretch in February due to ineffectiveness, and was making only his first start since Feb. 4, playing a season-high 34 minutes. “It’s difficult for anyone to have success and struggle like Mamadi has this season,” said Leitao. “But I tell you, I don’t remember one time when he hasn’t been in the gym working hard, improving himself despite anything happening to him on the floor. He’s handled not playing and his frustrations as well as anyone I’ve been around,” added Leitao.

After starting the game hitting only three of their first 16 shots from the floor and falling behind by as many as 13 (19-6 with 8:53 left) Virginia used a late first-half rally to close to within 27-26 at intermission. Virginia came out strong in the second half, making five of six from the filed to grab a 39-31 lead. Maryland coach Gary Williams said Virginia just took it to the Terrapins to start the second half. “They (Virginia) came out strong, guarded us well and just took control of the game,” commented Williams.

Maryland, now 18-12 overall and 7-9 in conference play, probably needs a strong showing in the upcoming ACC tournament to solidify its hopes of making the big dance.

Virginia, the 11th seed, will play in Thursday’s late game against sixth-seeded Boston College. While the Cavaliers postseason aspirations are none (baring a miraculous tourney championship), Saturday’s potential devastating blow to their border rivals may just be that light they have desperately been seeking.

 

– Story by Scott German


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