Maryland 81, N. Carolina 66
The Maryland Terrapins handled their road game issues tonight and took what they hope will be another significant step toward defending their ACC regular season championship.
Center Ryan Randle turned in another strong performance and backup point guard John Gilchrist made a pair of key baskets during a critical stretch to lead No. 12 Maryland to an 81-66 victory over North Carolina before 21,750 at the Smith Center.
Randle finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks, while shooting guard Drew Nicholas added 20 points and point guard Steve Blake had 17. The Terrapins (11-4, 4-1), who moved into first place in the ACC with Duke's loss at N.C. State, started quickly and answered every challenge, earning their first road victory of the season.
"It's been a 180-degree spin," Nicholas said. "But this can't be the highest point of our season. We've got a lot of other things we want to accomplish."
That list includes repeating as ACC regular season champions, a goal that the Terrapins believe requires winning games on the road. At home, Maryland has won 13 consecutive ACC games, including last Saturday over then-No. 1 Duke. On the road, though, the Terrapins were coming off a disappointing 81-72 loss at No. 17 Wake Forest last Wednesday. Coach Gary Williams said his team needed a victory to reassure itself.
"This says we're a good team," Williams said. "It says we can go different ways to get it done.
"I think the difference in our team this year is we don't know how we're going to be good each game. Somebody has to step up."
Tonight, with the game on the line and Maryland's one-time 17-point lead down to two, it was Gilchrist.
The Terrapins were particularly impressive in spurts early on, using bursts of 12-0 and 11-0 to build a 37-20 lead with 31/2 minutes left in the first half.
However, Maryland strayed from its game plan of getting the ball inside to Randle and forward Tahj Holden and attacking a defense that was missing starting center Sean May (broken foot). With ACC scoring leader Rashad McCants heating up, North Carolina pulled within 39-31 at halftime. Early in the second half, the Tar Heels narrowed the margin to 41-39 on an open three-pointer from the right wing by freshman point guard Raymond Felton.
With Blake out of the game after Maryland made three consecutive turnovers, Gilchrist twice drove down the lane past Felton, one of the Tar Heels' highly rated freshmen, for layups.
"I just saw an opening in the lane -- I just saw it and capitalized on it," Gilchrist said. "When I get on the floor and see my chance, I don't want to blow it."
After Gilchrist restored Maryland's cushion by making his only two shots of the game, Calvin McCall made a layup and Gilchrist passed to Randle for a jumper in the lane. A tip-in by Randle, a basket by Smith and two free throws by Gilchrist -- when Maryland had been 0 of 4 from the line -- made it 55-41 midway through the half. During the 14-2 run, Maryland scored six baskets in the lane.
"John Gilchrist did a great job coming in and really executing the offense," Williams said. "That was the key during that stretch."
McCants finished with 26 points, but North Carolina (11-6, 2-2) never got closer than eight points the rest of the way and saw its modest two-game winning streak end.
With the victory, Maryland matched its longest winning streak in the series -- three games -- since 1965. The Terrapins posted consecutive victories over Duke and North Carolina -- the teams that have dominated the ACC -- for the first time since 1980.
Tonight's victory might not seem as impressive as this past Saturday's 87-72 victory over then-No. 1 Duke, but Williams believed it is a significant event in his team's development. Previously, North Carolina had beaten No. 6 Kansas, Stanford and No. 11 Connecticut, the last of those victories coming here this past Saturday.
"It won't be thought of as big a win, but from a team standpoint, I think it is," Williams said.