CHARLOTTESVILLE — Excuse Virginia fans their exhaustion today. But this NCAA tournament uncertainty, fraught with agonizingly close games marked by near misses, brain-cramp turnovers and high drama is as grueling as manual labor.
Oh, the faithful don't have the calluses to prove it, but Sunday night was two-plus hours of virtual non-stop sweating.
Finally, when Dez Wells' 3-point attempt, contested smartly by 6-foot-11 Mike Tobey, drew only iron, Virginia escaped John Paul Jones Arena with a 61-58 overtime victory over Maryland in the regular-season finale.
The Cavaliers (21-10, 11-7) overcame a 17-point deficit and their most feeble scoring half since mid-November. They shot a miserable 36.8 percent and missed 12-of-16 attempts from beyond the arc.
"You just had to claw back possession-by-possession," coach Tony Bennett said.
On the heels of taut road losses at Boston College and Florida State, there's no telling what defeat Sunday would have done to Virginia. During some stages of the first half, the Cavaliers appeared eminently capable of losing to last-place Virginia Tech in the opening round of the ACC tournament.
But Virginia dodged the opening round, instead earning a bye into Friday's quarterfinals.
For this fans should thank Tobey, fellow freshman Justin Anderson and forward Akil Mitchell.
Tobey contributed 13 points and six rebounds off the bench, including the layup that forced overtime off a crisp Anderson inbounds pass. Mitchell bulled his way to team-highs of 17 points and 10 rebounds and proved himself worthy of All-ACC honors.
Arguably most important, the springy Anderson blocked five shots to complement eight points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal. Two of those blocks came in the closing two minutes of regulation, one on Dez Wells, the other on Pe'Shon Howard to preserve a 54-all tie after Tobey's bucket.
A product of Boo Williams' summer program, Anderson describes himself as a "little kid" on the court, and his visible enthusiasm is, indeed, child-like.
"I'm a great defender, I believe," Anderson said. "Coach Bennett, he's helped me become an even better defender since high school."
Said Bennett: "We needed (the blocks). We haven't done a great job the last three games I would say of containing the dribble. We're not the most athletic on the perimeter, and guys seem like they're able to get by us and get in the lane.
"When you can make plays like Justin can and cover up a breakdown and come out of nowhere and block a shot … those are huge plays. … It can make your defense look a little better than it is when you've got guys erasing. I didn't realize he had five blocks. Certainly every one was significant."
Anderson's 3-pointer at the buzzer drew Virginia within 32-19 at intermission. It was the Cavaliers' least-productive half since scoring 15 in the opening period of a mid-November home loss to Delaware.
But Maryland (20-11, 8-10) shot 25 percent in the second half and overtime combined as Virginia won its 17th consecutive home game.
Bennett won't sniff ACC coach of the year honors, and nor should he. Miami's Jim Larranaga will win in a landslide after guiding the Hurricanes to the regular-season title.
Moreover, hinging on the ACC tournament, there's a chance Virginia will be disappointed on Selection Sunday and lament late-game defeats against Boston College and Florida State in which Bennett himself questioned his use of timeouts.
None of which changes this: Bennett and his staff extracted more than most expected from the Cavaliers during the regular season.
This they did despite a raft of injuries. Point guard Malcolm Brogdon redshirted with a foot injury. Point guard Jontel Evans missed nine games, also with a foot ailment. An injured shin shelved Darion Atkins for eight games and limited him in many others, while Tobey sat five games due to mononucleosis.
The question now: Can the Cavaliers do enough damage in the ACC tournament to secure a second consecutive NCAA appearance?
Friday they'll face the winner of Thursday's game between North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, presumably the Wolfpack. The Cavaliers won the teams' lone regular-season meeting, 58-55 in Charlottesville, but Lorenzo Brown, the Wolfpack's point guard and best player, sat out the final 30 minutes after rolling his ankle midway through the first half.
Bank on another exhausting two hours.