CHAPEL HILL, N.C., FEB. 20 -- The Maryland Terrapins continued their habit of digging holes -- deep holes -- for themselves. Wednesday night against Georgia Tech, they never turned it around. Today, with help from a sloppy North Carolina team, the Terrapins fought their way back. Either way, they are still losing.
The fifth-ranked Tar Heels jumped out to a 17-point lead and hung on, 74-73, in front of 21,444 at Smith Center. The loss was the third in a row for the Terrapins, now 13-10 and 4-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It was a strange game in several ways. It was not the most exciting one-point game ever played, and with the teams combining for 42 turnovers (22 by Maryland) it certainly was not the best-played contest, either. The Tar Heels are the second-best rebounding team in the ACC, the Terrapins the worst, yet Maryland had a 29-22 edge on the boards. In one stretch North Carolina looked as if it might win by 30 points. In another the Terrapins looked set to pull off a major upset that would almost assure them an NCAA tournament bid. In the end, neither happened.
"At the beginning of the game and at the beginning of the second half, that's when they built their leads," said Maryland's Derrick Lewis. "If we don't fall behind 17 points in the first half and 15 in the second half, we would have been in much better shape."
Indeed, North Carolina (20-3, 9-2) wasted several opportunities to put the Terrapins away. Given several new lives, the Terrapins assembled a couple of runs -- but they never ran far enough.
Lewis scored the last of his 14 points on a dunk to cut the North Carolina lead to 69-66 with 58 seconds left. Immediately, the Terrapins called their last timeout, though they probably could have better used it later.
The Tar Heels responded by going to their best player. J.R. Reid scored the last of his game-high 21 points on a feed from Jeff Lebo (12 points, six assists) to push the Tar Heel' lead to 71-66 with :40 left.
Maryland Coach Bob Wade doesn't use guard John Johnson much, but put him in with about seven minutes left for what Wade said was defensive purposes. Johnson, who had missed a long jumper minutes earlier, scored inside to cut the North Carolina lead to 71-68 with 22 seconds left.
Rudy Archer, who led Maryland in scoring with 15 points, then fouled Lebo at :13. Lebo, who came into the game hitting 87.8 percent, made the first, but missed the second. Maryland pushed the ball up the floor and got it to Steve Hood, who sent up an off-balance 12-footer. If Lebo had stood out of the way and let Hood score, the Tar Heels could have held onto the ball out of bounds and the game would have been history. Instead, Lebo got close enough to Hood that he was called for a foul. That let Hood sink both free throws and there were still five seconds left.
The Terrapins' only option was to foul immediately. Archer did, trying to swipe the ball from Ranzino Smith with four seconds to go. Smith sealed the victory by making both ends of the one-and-one for a 74-70 lead. Teyon McCoy tossed in a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut the final margin to one.
"It's very difficult to take," Maryland center Brian Williams said. "If we hadn't made all those mistakes early, we might have won."
At the start of the game, Brian Williams was matched against North Carolina's Scott Williams. Both are from southern California, both played on the World Junior team this summer, and both played well today.
Scott Williams hit six of 10 from the floor, finished with 16 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked four shots. Brian Williams also hit six of 10 from the floor, totaled 14 points, took seven rebounds and blocked two shots. After the game, they draped a sweaty arm around one another.
"Just two California guys going at it," Brian Williams said.
He was part of one of the stranger substitutions in the game. With 1:41 left in the first half, Wade put little-used Rodney Walker in for Williams. Less than a minute later, after Walker sent Scott Williams to the line for two free throws, Brian Williams went back in for Walker.
"I was under the impression he had two fouls," Wade said of Williams. "Then my assistants informed me he had only one foul."
Wade's miscue was only one of many for Maryland in the first half. The Terrapins committed 14 turnovers, one fewer than North Carolina, but they also let the Tar Heels' traps and pressure affect them.
"We made poor decisions, meaning our guards," Wade said.
The Terrapins picked up their dribble too early on several occasions and the indirect result was no rhythm to the offense and, thus, gaps in scoring.
After Lewis scored on a beautiful move through the lane to cut the North Carolina lead to 10-8 with 12:59 left, the Tar Heels held Maryland scoreless for 4:37 and ran off 13 straight points. They eventually led by 28-11 with 7:38 left.
But then Maryland responded with a 17-4 run that reduced the deficit to 32-29.
"I thought we played a very good basketball game today with the exception of one segment in the first half when we did not take care of the ball," North Carolina Coach Dean Smith said. "Defensively, we were very aggressive. Maryland looked shaky with their turnovers."
Shaky the Terrapins were. After trailing, 39-31, at the half, they were outscored by 18-11 in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the second half as North Carolina took a 57-42 lead.
Again, Maryland came back. But, again Maryland was short.