CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The Maryland Terrapins were never in danger of losing control of overmatched North Carolina yesterday, but the Tar Heels earned some points for refusing to be blown out at their place.
To get an idea of the state of affairs at North Carolina, consider that the Tar Heels got a rousing ovation as they left the floor, after No. 3 Maryland led by as many as 22 points before walking away with a 92-77 victory before an announced crowd of 18,751 suspiciously noted as a sellout at the Dean Smith Center.
The Terps, back on the court after a week off, were not sharp enough on defense to duplicate that 33-point pummeling of the Tar Heels last month at Cole Field House. Instead, Maryland (19-3, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) settled for its sixth straight win and the 11th in its past 12 games by picking gently at the Carolina carcass.
The Tar Heels (6-15, 2-9) tied the school record for most losses in a year and are rapidly headed for the worst season in school history. They had never been nine games under .500. They had never lost more than five games at home before this year, and Maryland became the eighth team to beat Carolina on its home floor. And the Tar Heels set a school record for most ACC losses in a season.
No wonder the fans were cheering. Carolina at least gave them a sliver of hope for the future by playing with some fire, and by not crumbling under a pile of turnovers, which has been the Tar Heels' calling card much of the season.
The Tar Heels got 19 second-half points out of senior forward/center Kris Lang (game-high 23) and nearly cut the Terps' commanding 75-53 lead in half over the game's final nine minutes. Freshman forward Jawad Williams scored 21 and battled nonstop by grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds.
Maryland simply shrugged, put its head down, took care of another day's work on the road, and matched the best 22-game start in program history.
"We needed the rest, even though we were flat on the defensive end," said senior guard Juan Dixon, who led the Terps with 18 points, added eight rebounds, and was one of five Maryland players to score in double figures.
"[Carolina] didn't look like the same team we saw before. It looked like they worked on their pressure set. They were breaking our press. Our job is just to get wins. If it's ugly or a good win, we've just got to get one more in the win column."
The Terps, who play four of their final six regular-season games at home, can be the first Maryland team ever to begin its ACC schedule 10-1 with a victory against visiting Georgia Tech on Wednesday. Then, top-ranked Duke, which leads the Terps by a half-game in the conference, comes to town on Sunday with the top seed in the ACC tournament on the line.
Maryland coach Gary Williams was glad to play a game again and glad to get out of Chapel Hill with a healthy team, although he got a brief scare with eight minutes left in the first half, when sophomore forward Chris Wilcox took a nasty spill on his back while trying to block a shot by Jason Capel.
"I was really concerned about how we would play coming out of the break. I think we got through it pretty well," said Williams, who watched Maryland run off 11 unanswered points early to take a 19-8 lead, then stretch it to 28-14 with 11:18 left in the first half.
The Tar Heels never got closer than eight points after that, fading into a 47-30 hole at halftime. Capel, a Maryland killer, was no factor, as he fouled out and finished with five points in 18 minutes.
Wilcox returned to score 13 points and grab seven rebounds, teaming up nicely with senior center Lonny Baxter (16 points, 10 rebounds), who scored eight points in the game's first four minutes and recorded his sixth double double of the season.
Senior forward Byron Mouton continued his string of fine play by adding 16 points and six rebounds, while point guard Steve Blake (nine points, nine assists) and all-purpose guard Drew Nicholas (14 points, three assists, no turnovers) kept the backcourt humming.
"You have to give Carolina credit. In terms of the two games we played, the obvious improvement is right there to see," Williams said. "The young guys are playing with more confidence, and we could not stop Lang in the second half."
Unlike last month, when they committed 25 turnovers and went down without a fight while surrendering a school-record 112 points, the Tar Heels were able to get the ball across halfcourt routinely and run some semblance of an offense. Carolina also shot 51.4 percent in the second half. But it missed 10 of its first 14 shots and made only four of 18 three-point attempts.
Maryland, 5-1 on the road in the ACC, is eager to go home.
"I'm ready for that. These road trips kind of take a lot out of you," Wilcox said. "It's kind of tough to get up for games like this. [Carolina] is improving, but I don't think our defense was that good tonight. It was a good win, a road win, and it counts."
For Carolina coach Matt Doherty, the loss counted in a positive way.
"At this point in the season, to come back and play with heart and show some fight, I'm proud of our guys," he said. "We put up a fight and we just lost to a very talented and well-coached team. That's a start. You have to have that."
Maryland Min FG FT Reb A F Pt
Mouton 28 5-8 6-7 6 1 3 16
Wilcox 22 4-12 5-8 7 1 3 13
Baxter 26 6-12 4-4 10 0 4 16
Blake 32 4-7 0-0 4 9 2 9
Dixon 35 7-15 0-0 8 4 0 18
Nicholas 22 5-6 1-2 2 3 3 14
Holden 20 0-4 4-4 4 1 3 4
Randle 12 1-5 0-2 2 1 3 2
Collins 1 0-0 0-1 0 0 1 0
Badu 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Grinnon 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Totals 200 32-69 20-28 43 20 22 92
Percentages: FG-.464, FT-.714. 3-point goals: 8-16, .500 (Mouton 0-1, Blake 1-2, Dixon 4-9, Nicholas 3-4). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 4 (Wilcox, Baxter, Holden, Randle). Turnovers: 11 (Blake 3, Dixon 3, Mouton 2, Baxter, Holden, Wilcox). Steals: 7 (Blake 2, Baxter, Dixon, Holden, Randle, Wilcox).
N. Carolina Min FG FT Reb A F Pt
Manuel 19 0-3 0-0 2 5 2 0
Capel 18 2-7 0-0 2 0 5 5
Lang 30 8-13 7-10 3 1 1 23
Morrison 20 4-12 0-1 2 2 4 10
Boone 31 4-8 0-1 3 2 1 8
Williams 33 7-12 6-10 11 5 3 21
Johnson 13 0-1 0-0 1 0 1 0
Bersticker 12 3-4 0-2 4 0 4 6
Scott 23 2-6 0-0 3 2 2 4
Melendez 1 0-0 0-0 2 0 0 0
Totals 200 30-66 13-24 33 17 23 77
Percentages: FG-.455, FT-.542. 3-point goals: 4-18, .222 (Manuel 0-1, Capel 1-3, Morrison 2-7, Boone 0-3, Williams 1-2, Scott 0-2). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 4 (Williams 2, Bersticker, Lang). Turnovers: 13 (Morrison 3, Boone 2, Bersticker 2, Capel, Lang, Manuel, Melendez, Scott, Williams). Steals: 7 (Manuel 2, Boone, Capel, Lang, Morrison, Scott).
Maryland 47 45 - 92
N. Carolina 30 47 - 77
A: 18,751. Officials: Carl Hess, Mike Wood, Michael Kitts.