COLLEGE PARK - Fans were filing out of Comcast Center as the final 81 seconds ticked off the clock when one college-aged spectator waited for a quiet moment and yelled "Come on, NIT!"
That might be where Maryland winds up after the regular season is complete, particularly after Wednesday night's 79-68 loss against North Carolina before an announced crowd of 17,950.
The Terrapins (20-10, 8-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost for the third time in five games with one game to go before their NCAA tournament fate rests with the selection committee.
"We didn't come out in our best way," said sophomore Dez Wells, who led Maryland with 18 points. "And Carolina is a really good team, they hopped on us real fast. We picked it up in the second half, but we didn't get key stops when we needed it."
The Tar Heels (22-8, 12-5) had their 16-point lead trimmed to six with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining after sophomore guard Nick Faust drained a 3-pointer from the left corner. Faust's long-range shot ignited a crowd that had been rather dormant all night, only to have North Carolina's Marcus Paige answer with a 3-pointer of his own at the other end after a UNC timeout. Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo converted a three-point play two possessions later, and the Tar Heels led 69-57 with 4:04 to go.
Carolina sank nine of 10 free throws in the final 2:05 to seal the win and drop Maryland's home record to 16-3.
The Terrapins' 3-for-23 effort from behind the 3-point line (13 percent) certainly didn't help, either.
"I'm disappointed," said Terps coach Mark Turgeon, who was abrupt with his postgame comments to the media. "We couldn't make a shot, and we had some really good looks there early."
Maryland missed its final five shots of the first half and got sloppy on defense, which allowed the Tar Heels to close on a 10-0 run and lead 34-27 at the break.
North Carolina made 5 of 12 3-pointers in the half compared to the Terrapins' 2 for 14 shooting from behind the arc. Sophomore guard P.J. Hairston led the Heels with 10 first-half points and six rebounds.
Faust had nine points on 4 of 8 shooting and provided Maryland with a spark off the bench. He had five of the Terps' eight points in a 10-1 run that gave the home team its first lead at 14-13.
The teams traded leads eight times in the half before the Terps went cold down the stretch and North Carolina finished strong.
Faust finished with 16 points and senior James Padgett, who was honored before the game along with fellow senior Logan Aronhalt, scored nine points to go with seven rebounds.
The Tar Heels were too much, however.
Hairston led the way with 22 points, junior forward Reggie Bullock had 19 points and 12 rebounds while McAdoo scored 10 and Hairston grabbed eight boards.
Turgeon said the Terrapins didn't play smart enough in critical stretches of the game, and admitted they were tired as a whole against North Carolina's more athletic lineup. With one game to go before the ACC tournament, a road game at Virginia on Sunday, Maryland likely can't afford a similar performance with NCAA postseason tourney hopes fading fast.
Wells said he was proud of the team's effort but acknowledged it might take a deep ACC tourney run to keep the NIT from considering Maryland this season.
"I don't want to put any pressure by saying that on my team, but I think we have to do really good," Wells said. "And we all know that."