COLLEGE PARK -Two years ago, then-freshman Landon Milbourne watched with amusement as Maryland fans rushed the Comcast Center floor, toppling courtside seats in the process, to celebrate an 89-87 victory over fifth-ranked North Carolina.
"It was crazy," Milbourne recalled yesterday. "It's one of those reasons you came to Maryland - so you can play in games like that."
As the Terrapins prepared to play third-ranked North Carolina today, the image of fans wildly celebrating was a useful one for them to embrace.
After all, the first step in conquering a potent team is believing you can.
Unlike some teams, the Terps have little problem with that. After defeating the Tar Heels in 2007, Maryland beat them again last season. That 82-80 game ended with the now-graduated Bambale Osby rolling on the Smith Center floor in celebration.
Those victories - which will be highlights of many of the Maryland players' careers - made coach Gary Williams' task easier.
After Maryland's 93-64 loss at Clemson on Tuesday night - and its 108-91 setback against the Tar Heels on Feb. 3 - Williams said yesterday that he wants his team to "understand that the possibility [for an upset] is always there." Said the coach, whose team is 3-2 in its past five home games against North Carolina: "You get your team to believe they can do certain things and try to get it done."
North Carolina won the previous meeting with the Terps by hitting 11 of its first 14 three-point attempts. Maryland (16-9, 5-6 ACC) was stuck trying to defend inside on 6-foot-9 Tyler Hansbrough, the Tar Heels' all-time scoring leader, while also guarding the three-point line.
Hansbrough ended up with 24 points on 7-for-16 shooting. Wayne Ellington had 34 points on 12-for-15 shooting, including seven three-pointers.
Williams said afterward that the Terps did a poor job flying at shooters behind the arc.
Said Milbourne: "The main thing that happened last time was our lack of defense."
Maryland can take some encouragement from the earlier meeting. The Terps scored 91 points - which irritated North Carolina coach Roy Williams - and periodically beat the Tar Heels down the court on offense after made baskets or rebounds.
Said Milbourne: "When you're playing a running team, you can get out and run yourself." Beating the defense downcourt is a trait that North Carolina is better known for than the Terps.
"I think they're the best team in the country at scoring after the other team scores," Gary Williams said.
Today's game begins a stretch in which Maryland plays three games - North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest - against top teams at Comcast Center. The Terps also travel to N.C. State on March 1.
Senior forward Dave Neal said Maryland, still clinging to hopes of an NCAA tournament bid, is eager to win at least one of the three. "The crowd knows how important the games are, and hopefully they'll be out here supporting us," Neal said.
Said Gary Williams: "Anytime you play a ranked team and you're not ranked, you can make a statement."
What to look for
Can the Terps get the Tar Heels out of their three-point rhythm (16-for-25 in the last meeting) without sacrificing too much inside?
Wayne Ellington vs. Maryland's defense. Ellington had a stat line to remember against the Terps on Feb. 3: 34 points on 12-for-15 shooting from the field, including 7-for-9 on threes, plus nine rebounds.
What it means
Maryland is trying to pick off at least one win against the big three left on its schedule - North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest.
NO. 3 UNC (24-2, 10-2) @ MARYLAND (16-9, 5-6)
Today, 3:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 2, 7
Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM
Line: UNC by 10