"This was a game nobody will remember a month or so from now, what with the ACC tournament coming up and all," Dean Smith was saying after he had stolen yet another game from Maryland. In truth, it was an affair to forget a day or so from now for nearly every player on the court tonight. The only teams who ought to watch the films are the future opponents, for both the Tar Heels and Terrapins showed exactly what they cannot do.
These are teams as good as any in the country at the top of their game, with players who not only could make any pro team but also could make some pro teams competitive by themselves. Albert King is a franchise. So is Buck Williams. James Worthy and Sam Perkins shortly will be. In a big man's game, the Carolina and Maryland giants are exceptional.
Unfortunately, little men were allowed on the court tonight. And most of them should have stayed in their dorms and studied. With few exceptions, the basketball heirs of John Lucas, Mo Howard and Brad Davis, Phil Ford, Bobby Lewis and George Karl were dreadful.
Maryland showed how ordinary it can be with Buck Williams in foul trouble and how absolutely chaotic games might become when their guards are pressed or Greg Manning needs some rest. From now on, the opposition is going to dare the point guards, Dutch Morley and Reggie Jackson, to beat them with jumpers.
Tonight, Morley could not stay out of foul trouble and Jackson could scarcely hit the rim with the game on the line. Matters were so bleak that Coach Lefty Driesell suddenly moved a fellow who has played guard very little this year, even in practice, to guard.
That was Ernest Graham, whose professional position might be where he played tonight for several first-half minutes but who was a disaster there with so little experience. When Graham moved from forward to shooting guard, Maryland moved from a comfortable lead to trouble.
"We never really had to attack that zone. Maryland used with the lead," Carolina's Al Wood said, "because we got so many pretty easy baskets off turnovers."
Probably, Maryland will work Graham more at guard, anticipating those occasions Manning either is plagued by fouls or needs a rest. Can Driesell trust Morley and Jackson on the court at the same time in important games?
Maryland's man-to-man defense very often was beaten with just a bit of patience. When Carolina wanted a layup, it usually got it.
And very often missed it.
"I've never seen us miss so many layups," Smith moaned.
He also said he never has seen his team shoot so horribly so late (13 games) into the season. Every year, the Tar Heels consistently make 55 percent of their field-goal tries. After tonight, they are barely above 49 percent for the season.
"Up here," Smith said, pointing to his head and suggesting the problem with such as Al Wood is mental. Wood usually has a fluid and unerring a shot as anyone in his sport.For the last three games, including an eight-for-18 performance tonight, he has been in the slump of his career.
"I went through something like this when I was a freshman," Wood said. "For maybe four or five games. But that was because I was so new to college ball, didn't really know what was going on. Now (as a senior) I'm experienced enough to concentrate on other phases of my game when the shot's not falling.
"But not too many shooters won't pass up a shot when it's there. You've got to make sure it's a good one, though, when you're going through something like this. You've got to wait -- and relax. And then knock it in when it comes."
Carolina also has small-man problems, compounded by the hand injury that will keep gifted freshman Matt Doherty out of the lineup until nearly the end of the month. This is an unusually limited team at the moment, big but not very mobile.
In truth, Smith's team in its present form is a lot like so many of Driesell's in the past. So Smith is coaching with an uncommon fervor, working harder than ever to hide some potentially damaging weaknesses.
"For the first time," said a veteran college basketball watcher, "I've seen Dean with his tie askew."
Smith never is going to have a bad team. But Driesell went into this game with players at least as good as Carolina's -- and vastly more experienced. Smith always has subtle ways of attacking Driesell verbally -- and after tonight's come-from-behind victory, he said.
"Maryland has a veteran team, with everyone from a year ago and we lost five of our first seven players. So winning was extremely important for us."
It was Carolina, with sophomore Worthy, freshman Sam Perkins and junior point guard Jimmy Black as its leaders, which had the poise at all the proper times tonight. The Tar Heels got Williams in foul trouble rather quickly -- and went after him inside. But they could not draw that fifth foul until the final 49 seconds.
"We could have cracked," Smith said of Maryland's drawing to an early 16-4 lead and later cutting a big Carolina lead to two points. "But we made the free throws when we needed them, like I knew we would. And Perkins is going to get even better taking it to the basket inside off the four corners.
"But I've never seen a team of mine shoot this badly (tonight and for the season). I don't have to check the stats (of each of his teams through nearly 20 years at Carolina). I just know (tis is the worst).
"I'm not that concerned, though, because we're getting good shots, the kind we're looking for. If they didn't take their time, if they were throwing the ball away all the time, then I'd be worried."