Terps point guard Steve Blake

Doing it all: Terps point guard Steve Blake, who just missed a triple double with 12 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, beats Jason Capel for a first-half layup. (Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / January 9, 2002)

COLLEGE PARK - The North Carolina Tar Heels limped into sold-out Cole Field House last night, looking like a wounded team missing its sterling tradition and ripe for a knockout.

The Maryland Terrapins, feeling their superiority in size and athleticism from the outset, started punching early and never stopped until they had administered the worst-ever beating of their nemesis from Chapel Hill.

To the utter delight of a roaring home crowd of 14,500, fourth-ranked Maryland ran roughshod over the helpless Tar Heels and drove another nail into Carolina's nightmarish season with a 112-79 rout.

Senior guard Juan Dixon scored 20 of his season-high 29 points in the first half, senior center Lonny Baxter returned from a sprained right ankle to record the 1,500th point of his career, point guard Steve Blake just missed recording a triple double, and four Terps scored in double figures.

While scoring the most points any opponent has ever dropped on Carolina, the Terps shot at a blistering 57.9 percent rate, shoved around the smaller and less athletic Tar Heels on the boards, stole the ball at will and sent Carolina to its worst road loss ever.

"Who are those guys? They're just another team. North Carolina is nothing special," said Blake, who overmatched Carolina point guards Andre Boone and Melvin Scott while recording 12 points, nine rebounds and a career-high 14 assists.

"I thought there was a chance [for a Terps blowout], but I didn't want to get too confident," Blake added. "If you just think it's going to happen and you don't work hard, it might not happen."

The Terps resembled sharks sensing the kill, as they flustered the Tar Heels with full-court pressure, half-court traps and deadly shooting from inside and outside. Maryland forced 25 turnovers, leading to 32 assists and 26 points off fast breaks. They tied a school record by making 13 three-point shots, including eight between Dixon and Blake.

The Terps (12-2, 2-0 ACC) turned the night into a laugher by taking a 57-37 halftime lead. It marked the most points Maryland has scored in a half this season. Sophomore forward Chris Wilcox (16 points, six rebounds, three blocks) dominated the interior, while senior swingman Byron Mouton (17 points, seven rebounds) was his usual relentless self around the glass. Senior forward Jason Capel led Carolina with 27 points.

Carolina, which was top-ranked in the nation 11 months ago and is steeped in glittering ACC history, is down in a hole with too much youth and inexperience and a coach in Matt Doherty who is having trouble seeing light at the end of a dark tunnel.

The Tar Heels (1-2 in the ACC) are off to their first 5-7 start since the 1950-51 team under coach Tom Scott. The Tar Heels suffered their worst ACC loss in nearly 38 years.

"What can I say? It was a very difficult experience," Doherty said. "You want to have a good showing. We had 25 turnovers, [Maryland] had nine offensive rebounds in the first half. You're talking about some big, strong guys climbing the boards. We had some young guys in there. They need to grow and get better. This is a heck of an experience for them."

It got so ugly that Maryland coach Gary Williams was clearing the bench with just under 10 minutes to go, not long after the Terps had extended their lead beyond 30 points. It was hard to contemplate that Carolina was the only ACC team to beat Maryland twice during the regular season a year ago.

"That's crazy," said Dixon, who also added eight steals in 26 superb minutes, which were highlighted by his best shooting of the season. "It was different tonight. In the past, it would have been a tougher 40 minutes against those guys. Those guys are young. We've been trying to get to the level of Duke and Carolina in the ACC for a long time."

Carolina came in with a 107-48 edge in the overall series between the schools and a 28-18 edge at Cole Field House. For the first time since most fans in attendance could remember, the Tar Heels, who have won more ACC tournaments than any other school and have been to a national-record 27 straight NCAA tournaments, had no chance.

"You never expect it," said Williams, who gave all 12 players a chance to perform. "We have a veteran team and they struggle with some young guys. Sports are tough like that. You have to take your experience and use it. I was on the other side [of blowouts to Carolina] my first three years here. I remember trying to keep games under 30 [point losses]. The empathy is there.

"I thought our defense keyed everything tonight. We were able to get the tempo we wanted. Let's face it. We probably shot the ball better than we have all year. I've said before that when we shoot the ball and rebound well, we're pretty good. And we did those things tonight. Everything went right."

All of which left Capel highly impressed.

"Juan Dixon is a shooter, Chris Wilcox is the best big man in college to me, Steve Blake is a great point guard," Capel said. "If [the Terps] were not at their best, I'm scared to see what it is."