This was not only a battle of two top-10 teams — the first such matchup for the Terps in 13 seasons — but maybe of two of the top five teams in the country. This was also a showdown between two of the best point guards in college basketball, and both lived up to their billing.
North Carolina, which came into the season No. 1 before dropping eight spots after losing 11 days ago at Northern Iowa, played up to its preseason ranking in handing the seven-point underdog No. 2 Terps their first loss of the season, 89-81, before a raucous crowd of 21,163 Tuesday at the Smith Center.
The left-handed Paige showed no effects of either the injury nor the layoff, scoring 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting, to go with five assists in 34 minutes. Trimble more than held his own on this big stage, overcoming a rough start to finish with 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with a career-high 12 assists.
Trailing by as many as 13 in the first half, and by eight early in the second half, Maryland (6-1) came back behind the play of Trimble and senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who seemed fueled by the boos from a crowd that still treated him as if he were wearing a Duke uniform. Sulaimon scored 18 and helped the Terps take the lead in the second half.
After Maryland tied the score at 69, the Tar Heels closed the game on a 20-12 run as Trimble, who was forced to play 38 minutes because of Maryland's lack of backcourt depth, tired a bit. The Terps missed 13 of their last 17 shots, including eight of their last 10.
Still, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said afterward that he learned more about his team in its first defeat of this much-hyped season than he had in the first six victories. Despite committing 22 turnovers -- nine of them in the first eight minutes -- the Terps hung in there in the first true road test of the season.
"I think we've learned a lot in every game, and we continue to get better," Turgeon said. "There's a couple of games at home where we just took the night off at home and still won. I do think I learned a tremendous amount about our team.
"One, I've got to create more depth at the guard position and that will help us late in the game. We have got a long ways to go defensively, but we competed defensively. You never feel good after a loss, but I love the way we battled. Incredible crowd, incredible atmosphere and they played well. We got better tonight."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who won for the eighth straight time against his former Kansas assistant since Turgeon came to Maryland five years ago, had bittersweet feelings about his team's sixth victory in seven games this season. He felt happy for his players, but didn't feel good about getting the best of Turgeon.
"I thought it was a great basketball game and I know I feel better than Mark does," Williams said. "We did some things defensively that we haven't done all year long. Our intensity level was higher and better and more consistent than it was all year long. Melo and Rasheed put on a show out there from distance. It was a lot of fun having [Paige] back out there, that's for sure."
The Terps not only had to deal with Paige, but with a crowd that Williams said was "a big part of the win."
Maryland, which had averaged close to 21 free throws per game against lesser competition playing either at home or in neutral settings, took just 11 shots from the foul line and made nine. The Tar Heels, who had been going to the line a little more than 17 times per game in their first six games, went 25 times and made 14.
Turgeon did not hide his feelings in talking about the way the game was officiated and the physical manner in which North Carolina tried to stop Trimble. Though the sophomore point guard was marked with eight turnovers, Turgeon said, "he got tackled on four of his eight turnovers, to be honest with you. He was terrific."
Asked later if he thought he got tackled, Trimble smiled.
"It was physical, I wouldn't say I got tackled," he said.
Trimble said that the difference between the first half and the second half was in his head.
"In the first half, I was a little bit tight out there, I was too much worried about the hype and stuff and the fans," he said. "I let the game come to me toward the end of the [first] half and I started believing in myself and I started playing basketball."
As for his battle with Paige, Trimble said, "I really didn't get involved with that. I just wanted to do whatever it took to help the team win. Unfortunately we lost, but my teammates wanted me to be aggressive. Coach Turgeon wanted me to be aggressive and it was kind of going back and forth."
When the Tar Heels took control of the game toward the end -- missing their last five free throws to keep the lead from climbing into double digits -- the crowd reminded Maryland of its roots.
Just as they did in their last Atlantic Coast Conference tournament two seasons ago, the Terps heard the chants of "ACC, ACC, ACC" that seemed more aimed at Maryland's defection than giving its former league another win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Williams said it took him back to the past. Maybe not to 30 years ago, when the Terps were the first team to beat the Tar Heels and legendary coach Dean Smith in the brand new arena. The sight of former Terps coach Gary Williams in attendance also brought back memories, and the Hall of Fame coach was received warmly by the sellout crowd.
The high-level game did the rest.
Asked if he missed not having Maryland in the ACC, Williams said, "I miss having them around regardless. They're a big-time basketball team. That had the feel of an old ACC tournament game. That had the feel of an NCAA tournament game. It was just fortunate for us that it was in our building."