Round one to North Carolina. Painfully. Maryland had the Tar Heels hooked in their own gym tonight, but couldn't reel them in. What would have been a sweet victory turned into a bitter 75-66 defeat in front of 10,000 in steamy Carmichael Auditorium.
For 14 minutes tonight, the Terrapins looked like the team that swept through the Atlantic Coast Conference a year ago, leading a struggling Carolina team by eight points.
It didn't last. The Tar Heels survived 38-percent shooting the first half; jumped to a nine-point lead after Buck Williams committed his fourth foul early in the second half, and then just held n in the four corners the last 11 minutes.
Maryland, with the help of some less-than-intelligent UNC play, didn't fold against the Tar Heel delay, cutting the lead to 68-66 on Greg Manning's jump shot with 42 seconds left.
But freshman center Sam Perkins calmly made both ends of a one-and-one four seconds later to make it 70-66. Reggie Jackson and Manning, who sailing out of bounds with 24 seconds left. The rest was gravy for 16th-ranked Carolina, 1-0 in the ACC, 1'0-3 in all games. Eighth-ranked Maryland is 2-1 in the conference, 10-2 overall.
After starting out by making a miserable one of six shots from the floor, Al Wood finished with 22 points to lead the Tar Heels, followed by Jimmy Black and James Worthy with 16 each and Perkins with 14. Still, the Tar Heels looked vulnerable against the Maryland zone early and finished the night shooting 46 percent. But the Terps, after shooting 59 percent the first half, were awful 39 percent marksmen from the floor the second. That was the difference.
"We just ain't very good right now," Coach Lefty Driesell said. "We've played two big road games (here and Lousville) and lost them both. That's not good. I'm not sure what's wrong but if I was, I wouldn't tell you anyway."
Certainly Williams' foul problems, which limited him to 33 minutes and forced him to play carefully almost the entire second half, hurt as he had 13 points and just six rebounds.
But that does not explain Albert King's three-of-nine shooting the second half -- he still finished with a team-high 21 points -- or Ernest Graham's 3-of-7 shooting for six points.
And it also fails to explain Driesell's strange first-half decision to go to a big lineup, with Reggie Jackson and Graham at guards and King, Williams and Charles Pittman up front.
The Terps were leading, 26-20, with 5:42 left in the half and playing well; running their offense, sitting back comfortably in their zone and watching the Tar Heels miss badly at the other end. Bak in came King after a short rest. But instead of replacing Pittman or Graham, he pointed at Manning, who took a seat beside Dutch Morley. Graham moved to guard, a position he has played less than 10 minutes this season and very little in practice.
During the three minutes that lineup was on the court, the Terps had six possessions. Four resulted in turnovers, one an air ball by Jackson and the other an 18-foot jump shot by Gaham that swished.
Carolina converted each turnover and the air ball into baskets: a jumper by Wood; a short rolling shot by Worthy and Worthy's follow of a missed layup by Black cut it to 28-26. Jackson shot his air ball and Mike Pepper, zero for five at the time, drove past King for a layup to tie the game with 3:03 left. Worthy then stole a pass by Jackson and finished the debacle with a ferocious dunk as Driesell rose to call time to change his lineup with 2:41 left.
But the damage had been done.
"We had them down and then during that spurt we just lose it for a minute and let them get momentum," Driesell said. "I went with Ernest at guard because he's played there some and they had a big lineup on the court at the time.
Graham seemed less than pleased with the move. "I'm not going to say anything, he's the coach," Graham said. "I do the best I can, but sometimes playing three or four different positions isn't the easiest thing in the world."
The Terps regrouped long enough to take a 37-36 lead at half. But when Williams picked up his fourth foul with 16:55 left and Carolina up, 45-42, disaster struck again.
Williams sat out for three minutes and 12 seconds. During that time, the Terps did not score and the Tar Heels widened their lead to 51-42 on a layup by Perkins, a drive by Eric Kenny and Black's layup. Williams came back, but the rest of the night was catchup as UNC Coach Dean Smith spread his team out with 11:20 left.
"We were hoping Buck would get his fifth foul defending the spread," Smith said. "Instead Worthy got two fouls."
And the Tar Heels, weaker at guard than any time in the recent past, made uncharacteristic mistakes in the four corners, forcing some shots inside and letting Maryland creep back.
Creep they did, blowing several chances as shots barely missed. Manning finally got it to three at 67-64 after a basket by Wood was nullified by a charging call with 2:05 left. Pepper turned the ball over with 1:07 left, but Manning missed a drive. Wood was fouled with 49 seconds left. He made one, then Manning cut the deficit to 68-66 with his final jump shot.