North Carolina 84, Maryland 72
-- All that talk about 14th-ranked Maryland rebounding from a poor performance and winning its first ACC tournament title since 1984?
"Everybody talked a good game," Coach Gary Williams said. "We all did. Talk is cheap."
No. 7 seed North Carolina, which lost by 40 in the teams' last meeting, outplayed Maryland in nearly every facet in the second half and went on to an 84-72 victory. The defending national champion Terrapins will enter the NCAA tournament on a two-game losing streak and with great uncertainty.
"It's one and done; the next time we lose our season is over," guard Drew Nicholas said in a quiet locker room. "If that doesn't inspire anybody else to play, I don't know. It just seems like people don't want to be here.
"Some guys seem like they want to be on spring break. I don't want a spring break."
Less than a month ago, Maryland beat North Carolina, 96-56, the Tar Heels needing a buzzer-beating three-pointer to avoid matching their worst loss ever. Furthermore, the Terrapins were coming off an 80-78 overtime loss to Virginia, one of their poorest performances of the season. Everyone from Williams to the players promised a different display in the postseason. That didn't happen tonight, and Maryland missed returning to the semifinals for a ninth straight season.
"Too many things went wrong," Nicholas said. "There would be a whole essay on it."
After performing poorly in consecutive losses, the Terrapins (19-9) will return home and await a likely No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels (17-14), meantime, will play third-seeded Duke in Saturday's semifinals. The other semifinal will match top-seeded Wake Forest and fourth-seeded North Carolina State.
Instead of building momentum, Maryland was left with another demoralizing setback that raised a new series of questions for which there were no immediate answers.
"You'd like to have a better reason," Williams said. "You'd like to know why."
Said forward Calvin McCall: "Maybe you beat a team by 40, and we think we don't have to work as hard."
For the past week, coaches and players had spoken about the need to play with passion and enthusiasm and the ability to get the ball inside on offense.
But while forward Tahj Holden played well early, neither he nor center Ryan Randle made a significant impact. Holden had six points and three rebounds. Randle had one point and two rebounds in 13 foul-plagued minutes. As a team, the Terrapins were outrebounded by 10.
"We just stopped executing," Holden said. "We didn't go with our game plan. They outfought us. They outrebounded us. They shot better than we did. They did pretty much everything better than us the whole game."
Maryland controlled much of the first half, building leads of 11-2, 24-15 and 40-33 and threatening to take control on each occasion. Every time, however, North Carolina rallied, and when the Terrapins fell deeper into their offensive funk in the second half, the Tar Heels took over.
Time and again, North Carolina beat Maryland's press, usually leading to layups, dunks, free throws and more than a few three-pointers. The Tar Heels made 11 of 23 three-point attempts.
While point guard Raymond Felton had 20 points and 10 assists, two players who took the Tar Heels' lopsided defeat in College Park personally were responsible for much of the damage.
Forward Jawad Williams, who was heavily recruited by Maryland out of high school, scored a career-high 25 points. Guard Melvin Scott, a Baltimore native, scored a career-high 19, making 5 of 7 three-point attempts.
The score was tied at 50 when North Carolina broke the press and Felton made an open three-pointer from the right wing. On the Tar Heels' next possession, Felton beat the press and fed Scott for a three-pointer from the same location. That made it 56-52 and soon North Carolina was on its way.
"I don't think anyone gave us a chance," North Carolina Coach Matt Doherty said.