While the sixth-ranked Tar Heels and the fourth-ranked Blue Devils will play for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, the Terps were playing for something less tangible Wednesday night.
Eager for redemption after their recent road struggles, the Terps instead fell victim to turnovers, foul trouble and North Carolina's frontcourt size in an 88-64 Tar Heels victory.
North Carolina was led by senior center Tyler Zeller, who scored 30 points in his final home game. The night's dominant sound -- besides the ample noise made by the Senior Night crowd of an announced 21,750 -- was Maryland's being whistled for fouls. Zeller himself shot 23 free throws, more than Maryland's entire team. He converted 20. It was the most made free throws and most attempts in Smith Center history.
"We couldn't guard him all night," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "He kept drawing fouls on us. We didn't have a post guy who really took on the challenge all night with him."
The 7-footer departed with the Tar Heels leading by 29 points in the second half, waving to the crowd.
"I've never seen a big man shoot that many free throws in my life," said Maryland forward James Padgett, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
"He got a lot of calls. There wasn't much our big men could do," said Maryland freshman Nick Faust (City), who had a career-high 17 points. "I would say he got every call he really wanted. He's a good player though."
Win or lose, Turgeon has said, he wants his team to show more heart -- "gumption" he calls it. As if to set an example, the coach was his usual feisty self Wednesday night. He picked up a technical foul after jawing with the officials with Maryland trailing 53-42 and about 12 minutes remaining. His suit jacket -- which he normally keeps on -- had been discarded by then.
Maryland trailed by as many as 13 points a first half in which the Tar Heels dominated inside, scoring 22 points in the paint compared with Maryland's eight.
The Terps (16-13, 6-9 ACC) had 11 first half-turnovers. The absence of point guard Pe'Shon Howard, who recently had season-ending knee surgery, has been more pronounced against the best ACC teams.
Maryland was also hurt by poor shooting nights by Terrell Stoglin and Sean Mosley (St. Frances). Turgeon said Mosley aggravated an ankle injury blocking a shot in the first half but opted to remain in the game. He shot 1-for-9. Maryland swingman Mychal Parker (two points) played with strep throat.
Stoglin, the ACC's leading scorer, shot 4-for-18 and finished with 16 points. North Carolina coach Roy Williams said the Tar Heels made a point of trying to "crowd" Stoglin and rotate different defenders toward him.
"We had fresh guys on him," Williams said.
North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall entered the game needing four assists to set a single-season school record. He did so in the second half, and his achievement was recognized by the crowd. He finished with eight assists.
A key moment seemed to come when the Terps cut the deficit to 36-30 as North Carolina's Harrison Barnes picked up his third foul early in the second half.
"I thought we kind of had control of the game a little bit," Turgeon said.
But Mosley missed an open 3-point attempt and Padgett traveled on the next possession, and the Terps could get no closer.
Soon afterward, the Tar Heels -- helped by Maryland turnovers -- pulled away.
"We got tired," Turgeon said.
Said Faust: "The gym was hot. It was real hot, so I guess we had a little fatigue. But it's just things we've got to press through. You've got to deal with it."
North Carolina needed to beat the Terps to keep pace with Duke. The Tar Heels also wanted to send off five seniors with a win in their last home game. Zeller and the other seniors were honored with their families before and after the contest, and all were made starters.
The Terps were trying to win for just the second time this season in an opponent's arena against the Tar Heels (26-4, 13-2), who have won 11 of their past 12 games.
North Carolina ranks first in the nation in rebounding. The Tar Heels' rebounding margin of plus-11.4 entering Wednesday's play was more than twice that of any other team in the ACC.
Maryland center Alex Len, who started for the first time in more than a month, fouled out in the second half. So did forward Ashton Pankey, who had a particularly difficult game with zero points and zero rebounds.
Turgeon said of Len, who scored six points but didn't attempt a free throw: "Maybe he needs to go to the Zeller school of drawing fouls."
Maryland, which had hoped to end the season on a roll to improve its ACC tournament seeding, has lost three of its past four games. The Terps close the regular season on Senior Day at Comcast Center on Sunday against Virginia.