WASHINGTON — Gary Williams offered some sobering words to Virginia men’s basketball on the heels of their Elite Eight collapse, a stunning 68-62 loss to Syracuse on Sunday night.
A No. 1 seed, Virginia held a commanding lead over 10th-seeded Syracuse for most of the game, but were caught off guard by Syracuse’s sudden switch to full-court press coverage deep into the second half.
“Second half, before Syracuse came with the press that really changed the world in that game, Virginia got a little tentative,” the former Maryland coach discussed the game with John Feinstein on CSN Mid-Atlantic. “They started standing around a little bit in their offense, and they were just trying to coast their way to the victory rather than trying to put Syracuse away.”
The Cavaliers led by 15 with under 10 minutes to play. That’s when Syracuse began overwhelming them with press coverage, sparking a 20-4 run that afforded the Orange a one-point lead with five minutes and 51 second remaining, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“You can say a lot of things after a game like this, and I’ve been there,” Williams said. “You remember it the rest of your life. You’re driving down the road sometimes by yourself in the car and all of a sudden, ‘Ah, how about that game? … We could have done this.’
“And, really, what happened is what pressure defense does a lot of times to a team, Virginia had opportunities when they did break the press. You have to decide to be aggressive against it and try to score against it. Virginia pulled it back a little bit, even when they broke the press.”
Two lost leads from his coaching career likely still haunt Williams, both of which came in the same season, by the same opponent, and with devastating consequence.
First, there was the “Miracle Minute,” or “Gone in 60 Seconds” game as it’s also been remembered, when No. 2 Duke, visiting No. 10 Maryland in Jan. 2001, vaporized a 10-point Terps lead in the game’s final minute to force overtime. Duke went on to win, 98-96.
The second came later that season in the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland, a three seed, was in the Final Four, its deepest tournament run in program history with a chance to win the National Championship. If not for No. 1 Duke. The Terps were in position, building as much as a 22-point first-half lead. Until it happened again.
Duke won the second half, outscoring Maryland fittingly by 22 points, to advance to the title game with a 95-84 victory. The Terps were shell-shocked. And the Blue Devils went on to win the title.
“I was stunned Virginia didn’t handle it,” Feinstein added of Sunday’s game. “I thought, not only were they going to be in the Final Four, I thought they had the best shot to beat [North] Carolina. Not anymore.”