This is what a young Maryland team had thirsted for all season: a chance to prove it had arrived against a highly ranked conference rival in front of a jacked-up Comcast Center crowd as eager as the players for a signature win.
Feeding off adrenaline from their passionate, red-clad fans, the Terps hung in Saturday against No. 5 North Carolina before buckling under the weight of size and second-chance points in an 83-74 Tar Heels victory.
The finish was particularly unsatisfying for the Terps and the announced crowd of 17,950.
North Carolina (20-3, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) was leading 81-74 when junior forward John Henson dunked emphatically with one second to go. The Tar Heels could have dribbled out the clock.
"I didn't like the dunk," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who spoke with North Carolina coach Roy Williams after the game. "Coach [Williams] knows that."
Turgeon was an assistant under Williams at Kansas and refers to Williams as a mentor.
Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin said of the dunk: "I felt it was a bad play, personally."
Many Maryland fans inside the amped-up Comcast Center booed the dunk.
The dunk was awkward for Williams, too.
"I probably would have liked it better if John hadn't gone in and dunked it," Williams said. "The guy was trying to block his shot. If they [Maryland defenders] were standing out at the center line, I would have really been disappointed at John. That's because of my feelings for Turge that I didn't want it to end like that."
There was an earlier delicate moment when a fan loudly screamed an expletive at North Carolina during the singing of the national anthem. Williams said he was pleased to learn that the fan had been escorted from the arena by Comcast Center officials.
Turgeon, who seemed more frustrated than after other losses, devoted much of his post-game media availability to talking about rebounding -- or rather its absence. The Tar Heels had 19 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points compared with Maryland's 13 and 12.
In one telling sequence, Maryland trailed 72-69 when Tyler Zeller (22 points) missed a shot with 2:37 left. North Carolina got an offensive rebound. Then it got another. Then another. Then Henson hit a shot to put the Tar Heels up by five.
"It's really simple. I've never had more trouble getting a team to be more physical on box-outs. Some of it is going to be their length, but a lot of it is going to be us not competing on the glass when we needed to compete," Turgeon said.
Comcast Center had a big-game atmosphere partly because of desperation. Maryland (13-9, 3-5) had slipped below .500 at 3-4 in the conference, and Turgeon had said the Terps needed to take "the next step" by upsetting a top team. Maryland used the occasion to invite top football and basketball recruits to the game.
But the Terps lost for the fifth time in six games.
Maryland trailed by three points with 2:03 remaining when center Alex Len (12 points, nine rebounds) committed his second goaltending violation, making it 74-69. The lead became 76-70 on Harrison Barnes' jumper with 1:02 left.
Stoglin then missed a jumper and a putback and walked dejectedly downcourt after a Maryland foul.
Henson had 17 points and 12 rebounds for North Carolina. Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall had 16 assists.
Earlier, the Terps had hung in against the imposing North Carolina frontcourt partly by getting to the foul line, a strength of the team. Maryland has attempted more free throws than any other ACC team.
But Maryland also got into foul trouble. Sean Mosley (11 points) played portions of the second half with four fouls before fouling out in the final minute. Zeller finished with four fouls for North Carolina.
Maryland led 48-39 early in the second half. But a 3-pointer by Marshall cut Maryland's advantage to 48-44.
The Tar Heels took a 59-57 lead on a 3-pointer by Barnes -- their first lead of the second half.
"We wanted to come out and be physical on the defensive end [and] try to box [the Tar Heels] out," Mosley said. "They've got talent, they've got size and they have length."