CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The Maryland Terrapins made history here 11 years ago when they became the first team to beat North Carolina in the then-new Smith Center. Seemingly on the verge of embarrassment last night, the Terrapins made history again.
Trailing the 13th-ranked Tar Heels by 22 points with 14: 24 left in the game, the 19th-ranked Terrapins stunned North Carolina and maybe even themselves by storming back to an 85-75 victory, scoring 41 of the game's final 50 points.
It was the largest comeback by a Maryland team in the second half, and the second-largest road comeback in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
The victory gave Maryland (13-1, 3-0) its best start in the ACC since the 1979-80 season, and provided North Carolina (9-3, 0-2) with its worst start in the league since the same season. With last year's victory here, it was the first time the Terrapins had beaten the Tar Heels at home in successive trips since they won in 1927 and 1930.
"When we came out for the second half and fell behind by 22 points, I thought it was going to be tough," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "A lot of things had to go right for us. I've been coaching for a little while in a few places, but that's probably the best comeback any of my teams have ever made."
Said North Carolina coach Dean Smith, "I've been a part of a few games like that, but I can't remember ever losing one like that."
The Tar Heels are usually the team to make huge comebacks, not momentous collapses. Not only was it the largest deficit ever made up by a Maryland team -- eclipsing the 17-point comeback at South Florida in 1989-90, Williams' first year -- but it was also the largest lead a North Carolina team had ever lost at home. They had blown 16-point leads to Virginia in 1981 and Georgia Tech in 1991.
Maryland went on a 28-2 run to turn a 66-44 deficit into a 72-68 lead. After Antawn Jamison stopped a scoring drought in which the Tar Heels scored only once in more than 10 1/2 minutes, the Terrapins scored the next five points.
Another layup by Jamison and two free throws by Maryland's Terrell Stokes left the score at 79-72. A three-pointer by forward Ademola Okulaja -- the only one in 12 second-half attempts for the Tar Heels -- gave the sellout crowd of 21,572 a flicker of hope, but Laron Profit scored the game's last six points.
Profit, who missed all seven shots he took in the first half and was taken out by Williams early in the second half, returned when Rodney Elliott fouled out with 6: 41 left. The 6-foot-6 sophomore went from dormant to dominant, scoring 11 points down the stretch and pulling down several big rebounds. Sophomore center Obinna Ekezie led the Terrapins with 21 points, and senior forward Keith Booth finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
"We did a good job of keeping our composure," said Booth. "We kept hanging in there and they started missing their shots."
After freshman guard Ed Cota's drive put the Tar Heels ahead by 22 for the second time -- they had led by 19 twice in the first half and by 12 at halftime -- North Carolina missed 12 of its next 13 shots. Conversely, the Terrapins hit 10 of their next 12 to close to within 68-67. After Sarunas Jasikevicius missed two open three-point tries, Profit scored on a drive with 5: 08 left to put Maryland in front for good.
It silenced the crowd.
It took whatever energy was left out of the Tar Heels.
"It got scary in the second half for the fans, the players and maybe for the coaches," said Smith, whose team was coming off an 81-57 loss to second-ranked Wake Forest and playing without injured sophomore forward Vince Carter. "But Maryland is an excellent team that deserves to be in the Top 20, and obviously we don't."
Said junior guard Shammond Williams, who went 0-for-7 on threes in the second half after lighting up Maryland for 15 first-half-points, "Just being up 22 points doesn't mean the game is over, doesn't mean you can take bad shots and not play defense. We didn't do what our coaches told us, and you see what happens. We got down, and we're not mature enough to play through that."
Despite playing with only one senior -- Booth -- the Terrapins showed maturity. More importantly, they showed the kind of resilience they have exhibited throughout their amazing start. But coming back here against the Tar Heels and the legendary Smith, who is still 16 wins shy of tying Adolph Rupp's all-time record of 876, is much different from coming back against South Florida.
Williams had to go back to his first coaching job at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J., in 1968, when his team turned an 18-point third-quarter deficit into a lead by the start of the fourth quarter and beat a team on which future Notre Dame All-America John Shumate was the star. In 19 years and the previous 560 games as a Division I head coach, Williams had never experienced anything like last night.
"It's a tremendous comeback, and our players should really be congratulated for it," said Williams. "But you know how it is in this league. We still have to go to N.C. State Sunday, and we can get caught up in it this time of year. That's one you'll remember when you're smoking a cigar on the golf course in May."
It will be a victory cigar, one with a historic aroma.
NOTE: Maryland's comeback was one point shy of the biggest road rally in ACC history, a 23-point turnaround by Virginia at Duke in 1995.
Keys to Maryland's 32-point turnaround in defeating North Carolina:
After going 0-for-7 in the first half, Laron Profit made all three field-goal attempts in the second half and scored 11 of the Terps' last 16 points.
The Terps outscored the Tar Heels 16-2 from the foul line in the second half.
The Terps committed only three turnovers in the second half.
North Carolina was 11-for-31 from the field in the second half, including 1-for-12 on three-pointers.
............... Conference ... Overall
.............. W .. L .... Pct .... W .. L ... Pct
W. Forest .... 3 .. 0 ... 1.000 .. 11 .. 0 .. 1.000
Maryland ..... 3 .. 0 ... 1.000 .. 13 .. 1 ... .929
Clemson ...... 2 .. 0 ... 1.000 .. 13 .. 1 ... .929
Duke ......... 2 .. 1 .... .667 .. 11 .. 3 ... .786
Florida St. .. 1 .. 2 .... .333 ... 9 .. 2 ... .818
Virginia ..... 1 .. 2 .... .333 .. 10 .. 4 ... .714
Ga. Tech ..... 1 .. 2 .... .333 ... 7 .. 5 ... .583
UNC .......... 0 .. 2 .... .000 ... 9 .. 3 ... .750
N.C. State ... 0 .. 2 .... .000 ... 8 .. 3 ... .727
Last night's results
Maryland 85, North Carolina 75
Virginia 64, Florida St. 61
Wake Forest 73, Georgia Tech 63
Pub Date: 1/09/97