Maryland 96, N. Carolina 56

Perhaps it was Jamar Smith's one-handed alley-oop dunk. Maybe it was diminutive guard Andre Collins, generously listed at 5 feet 9, rebounding his own miss and scoring while being fouled. Or maybe even seldom-used Mike Grinnon making a three-point shot from the right corner. There were plenty of highlights for Maryland's players to pick as their favorite in yesterday's 96-56 victory over North Carolina at Comcast Center.

It was the latest installment in a series that quickly has become one-sided. This was the worst loss for the Tar Heels in 53 years, before the ACC was created. If not for an open three-pointer by Melvin Scott with 1.6 seconds left -- some players already were shaking hands by that point -- it would have matched the worst loss ever for North Carolina, a 63-20 defeat to the Lynchburg Elks -- who? -- on Feb. 20, 1915.

As it was, it matched the third-worst defeat in Tar Heels history and gave 13th-ranked Maryland four consecutive victories in the series for the first time since 1932.

Last season, when Maryland beat North Carolina, 112-79, some described it as a fluke and a byproduct of the Tar Heels' worst-ever 8-20 season. This season, North Carolina came to College Park -- it arrived only 30 minutes before the scheduled game time after its bus was stuck in traffic from the team hotel in downtown Washington -- hoping to make a late run for an NCAA tournament berth.

But even by North Carolina's recently lowered standards, this was a colossal defeat.

"I'm sure when people see this score, they'll go, 'Well, what happened?' " Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "You saw what happened. We got hot. They weren't."

Said North Carolina forward Rashad McCants: "We got beat. Ain't no mystery. Ain't no conspiracy. We just got beat."

Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood, a former Tar Heel, was in attendance; surely he could have helped his alma mater's ailing inside game. Maybe Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, seated courtside in the front row, could have aided North Carolina's porous defense.

Perhaps the Tar Heels should have stayed in traffic or maybe hoped for more leaks in the Comcast Center roof; before the game started, building managers had employees on the roof, stopping a pair of leaks dripping onto the playing floor.

Maryland shot 58 percent, making 40 of 69 shots, including 10 of 17 from three-point range. The Terrapins (17-7, 9-4) remained tied with Duke, which yesterday beat North Carolina State, in the conference standings, percentage points behind first-place Wake Forest (8-3 ACC), which hosts Virginia tonight.

It was a nightmarish day for North Carolina (14-12, 4-8), which was coming off a 36-point victory over North Carolina A&T, Division I's only remaining winless team. Unlike most visiting teams, who normally stay in the Maryland suburbs, the Tar Heels stayed in style downtown and needed 11/2 hours to make it to the arena.

North Carolina Coach Matt Doherty, however, said his team's travel problems were not a factor in yesterday's outcome. The Tar Heels were within two points midway through the first half and pulled within 47-40 on a fast-break dunk by McCants early in the second half.

If there was any tension for the home team or its crowd, it was taken care of quickly. With the shot clock running down, point guard Steve Blake made a long three-pointer from the right side. Then Blake made a steal and banked in a pull-up jumper. Just like that, it was 52-40 but it might as well have been a 20- or 30-point lead -- which it soon was after a 14-0 run while Blake and guard Drew Nicholas were on the bench.

"We pretty much knew the game was over" then, said Blake, who had game highs of 18 points and eight assists. "It was just going out there and having fun the rest of the game and we did. We enjoyed it."

Said Nicholas: "Once we got it up to about 20, it seemed like they just died a little bit. They didn't really try to make a push and we kept rolling. . . . Nothing really much more to say other than we just came out and we played. I guess they weren't ready to play."

Nicholas finished with 17 points and center Ryan Randle had 16. Backup point guard John Gilchrist, who had a pair of key baskets in Maryland's victory earlier this season at North Carolina, had 11 points and nine rebounds.

"Back in Carolina's heyday, that was one of my dreams, just to play in the Dean Dome and just to see those pretty uniforms," Gilchrist said. "I knew they always had great teams. I never imagined beating them by 40, but hey, it just shows you the times, 2003."

Maryland's Drew Nicholas (17 points) likes what he sees as Terps wrap up decisive win.North Carolina has no answers for Maryland. "Ain't no mystery. Ain't no conspiracy. We just got beat," Rashad McCants said.Terps' Steve Blake (game-high 18 points) finds little opposition against Tar Heels.