Al Wood, playing with three fingers stitched and taped to each other, hit a 20-foot jump shot with three seconds remaining to give North Carolina its seventh straight victory over Maryland, 54-53, yesterday at Cole Field House.
Many of the Terrapins were shaking their heads after the Tar Heels triumphed on a five-point spurt in the final two minutes with a team many observers thought could not have beaten Maryland unless the game had been played at the Mayo Clinic.
In addition to Wood's injury, the Tar Heels (14-2) were without the services of injured All-America forward Mike O'Koren and starting point guard Dave Colescott.
Nevertheless, the second-ranked Tar Heels won for the sixth straight time at Cole Field House, leaving Terp guard Dutch Morley to observe: "We had it. We led by four with two minutes left. It didn't matter who they had in there, or who we had in there, or what play we ran. Or whether we ran or slowed it down.
"We should have had this one. But I made a couple of mistakes, and they won."
If Carolina does not use witchcraft, it may be a surprise to Maryland (12-5), which had gone to the four corners to protect a fragile lead.
At 2:55, with Maryland ahead by two, 51-49, Morley's pass to Buck Williams barely grazed the freshman forward's finger tips before going out of bounds.
Williams then intercepted a Carolina pass, and Al King pumped in an 11-footer to put Maryland up, 53-49, with 1:55 left.
Carolina patiently passed the ball around, which seemed unusual for a team four points behind with so little time left.
"We wouldn't have done that at home," Coach Dean Smith said. "We would not do that against a team we were supposed to beat. If we're playing someone we think should beat us, we'll do it."
Carolina did not find that elusive perfect shot because Morley, playing the point in Maryland's 1-2-2 zone, fouled John Virgil.
After two timeouts, one by Carolina to plan strategy and one by Maryland to rattle Virgil, the Tar Heel hit the first free throw and missed the second.
The rebound bounced out to the perimeter to Carolina guard Ged Doughton. Rich Yonakor capitalized on that good fortune by scoring around John Bilney after a pump fake to cut Maryland's lead to 53-52 with 1:04 left.
Still, the Terps (now 3-2 in the ACC) could have grabbed the lead in the conference for the first time since 1975, if only they had stalled away the final 1:04.
But 10 seconds into the stall, Morley drove the lane, passed off to Williams under the basket and the ball ricocheted off Williams chest out of bounds.
Carolina called time and came back with a plan to hold the ball for the final shot, unless a wide-open shot materialized. Maryland, playing without center Larry Gibson, who had fouled out, stayed in the zone. Doughton told what happened with about five seconds remaining in the game.
"It was a basic play," Doughton said of the game-winner. "I saw they were overplaying Virgil, so I pumped his way and threw to Al (Wood)."
Wood was open for the 20 foot jumper, which dropped in with three seconds left.
Wood was rather casual in his analysis of his game-winner. "I've shot that shot," he said, "five or six hundred times in practice."
The Terps called time, giving them three seconds to avert their third straight defeat at home. Morley lobbed to Greg Manning at midcourt and Maryland called time again with two seconds left.
Then, running a play they've practiced for just this situation, Morley inbounded at midcourt to Manning near the top of key, and Manning drove to the left corner and shot.
The ball bounced on the rim and over the hoop. And almost unbelievably, Carolina had beaten a fourth team in the top 20 in a span of eight days. Maryland was ranked 19th.
UNC, ranked second, is well atop the ACC with a 5-1 mark.
Smith's Carolina teams have beaten Lefty Driesell's Maryland teams 15 times in 21 games.
"When people bring up those things about coaches it just makes people mad," Smith said. "Lefty is an excellent coach, or he wouldn't be at this level."
"If they're No. 2 in the country," Driesell said, 'we're not far behind. Today they were one point better, and I'm not sure they were that much better.
"I don't want to hear about O'Koren not playing. Albert hurt his back in the Clemson game and didn't practice yesterday. But we don't put our problems out in the street like some people."
King, who suffered back spasms last year, had just one rebound yesterday to go with his 14 points.
Ernest Graham scored 25 points, but after hitting seven of seven field goals and five of six free throws in the first half, Graham got sidetracked in a talking match with Carolina's Dudley Bradley. Graham got only six second-half points. "I think," Bradley said, "He (Graham) threw himself off." Wood led Carolina scorers with 16 points.
"I don't feel like talking," was Graham's only comment.
He wasn't the only one in the Maryland locker room who felt that way.