CHAPEL HILL, N.C., FEB. 21 -- It was a scenario not frequently played out in these parts: North Carolina Coach Dean Smith raising the white flag by sending in the guys who never play, acknowledging the game to be hopelessly out of reach.
The top-ranked Temple Owls (22-1) came into Smith Center, whipped the Tar Heels with a 19-0 run that erased a five-point Carolina lead at the start of the second half and departed with an 83-66 victory in front of 21,444 people who weren't entirely sure what to make of it all.
Fifth-ranked North Carolina (20-4) had lost only twice before in this building, but those were against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents Maryland (1986) and Duke (1988). And those were close games, decided by a total of six points.
But today, with Temple never leading by less than 10 in the final nine minutes, there was no rush for the exits because many fans had already left before the final buzzer. The 17-point margin of defeat was the worst for North Carolina at home since Maryland beat the Tar Heels, 96-74, on Feb. 15, 1975.
"We haven't had one like this in a while," Smith said.
Temple played smart, turning the ball over only three times in the first half, when North Carolina had a chance to build a big lead, and nine times for the game. The Owls played great defense, swallowing the Tar Heels' big men in their matchup 2-3 zone while pushing the Tar Heel guards far enough away to make their outside shots difficult.
With forward Tim Perry playing great defense, North Carolina's J.R. Reid was held to four points in the second half and finished with 10 and center Scott Williams was shut out in the second half and had a total of nine. Guard Jeff Lebo was North Carolina's top scorer with 18 points, but that was just because he took the most shots. Lebo was five of 16 from the floor, including five of 14 from three-point range.
"Every pass was contested," said Lebo, who had four of the Tar Heels' season-high 29 turnovers.
"We shut down the inside game," said Temple point guard Howard Evans, who had 13 points, seven steals and six assists. "We keyed on J.R., Williams and Lebo. We wanted to make someone besides them beat us from the outside."
Finally, Temple shot exceptionally well in the second half, hitting 68.1 percent of its shots. The leader was Mike Vreeswyk, who tied a career-high with 26, followed by freshman Mark Macon, who had 19 points, 15 of which came after intermission.
"Our defense has always been a stabilizer and something we could count on," Temple Coach John Chaney said. "Our shooting certainly has been up and down, though we've shot well in big games. We have to continue to shoot well in big games. Unfortunately, it's the one thing that cures all ills."
Macon's ailment in the first half was foul trouble. He got his second foul with 16:31 left and sat out the last 11:52 of the first half.
"He's not a player who will control himself enough to not get his third," said Chaney, who is not allowing the media to speak to his freshmen. "It's up to me to control him."
The Tar Heels led by seven at one point in the first half, and were ahead, 39-34, at the half.
"When you're not shooting well, you can't turn the ball over," said Evans of the Owls, who were 40 percent from the field in the first half.
Temple erased the deficit and effectively won the game with 19 unanswered points at the start of the second half. Vreeswyk and Macon each had eight points in that stretch. Macon's fadeaway jumper gave Temple a 53-39 lead. Lebo ended the run and scored North Carolina's first points of the half with 13:22 remaining.
Vreeswyk was two of seven in the first half, but kept on shooting, and was five of eight in the second half.
"Most of the time I just tell him he's the worst shooter in the world," Chaney said of Vreeswyk, "and he just keeps on shooting. I keep telling him and he doesn't believe me."
Said Vreeswyk, "Coach never takes you out for missing a shot. If you play defense, rebound and do the other things, you'll stay in. That is very good for your confidence."
Then there was Macon.
"It's tough to play against someone who has confidence and the green light to go one-on-one," said Reid.
Said Chaney, "Mark Macon was the difference in the second half."
The Owls have been in the top spot for two weeks and they will surely stay there this week.
"It's hard to say who deserves it," Smith said of the Owls, "but I would say they are based on what I saw. But maybe Penn State would not vote them No. 1."
The Nittany Lions nearly upset Temple last Tuesday before losing, 50-49, in Philadelphia. That may have been the Owls' worst game of the season. Today's had to be one of their best.
"This game will give us a lot of confidence going into the last leg of our schedule," Chaney said. "It is certainly a morale builder to come to Carolina where they have always had super teams. This is a real big game for us."