Midway through the second half, Jake Layman trudged over to the Maryland bench and, with a clenched fist, pounded the adjacent red cushion. It was a rare moment of visible frustration for the typically mild-mannered freshman, indicative of the avalanche of disappointment that came crashing down on Comcast Center Wednesday night.
Before a raucous crowd on senior night, thumping as loud as it did against Duke nearly one month ago, the Terrapins shot 13 percent (3 for 23) from beyond the three-point line and were overmatched against North Carolina’s undersized, four-guard lineup in a 79-68 loss that makes a deep ACC tournament run their only remaining avenue into March Madness. Several times Maryland knocked on the door, ready to break through against the suddenly hot Tar Heels, who have now won six straight, but each time saw their advances answered in kind.
“It definitely hurts the mood of the team,” said guard Nick Faust, who finished with 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting and made five free throws, more than his past four games combined. “You think you’re making a comeback, but then they come right back and hit you in the face again. They’re a great team, they did a great job today.”
Maryland? Not so much. Seth Allen and Logan Aronhalt, the team’s two best three-point shooters entering Wednesday, were each 0 for 5 from beyond the arc, unable to catch fire despite stepping into several open looks. Alex Len finished with eight points and seven rebounds, but four of those points came on open reverse dunks that fell into his lap in the first half.
“When we threw him the ball, not much happened,” Coach Mark Turgeon said, stopping there.
Turgeon’s postgame press conference lasted just under five minutes. He opened his remarks by expressing his “disappointment” three times and delivered some uncharacteristically curt answers, likely derived from the utter confusion that similarly surfaced after Maryland’s recent midweek letdowns against Boston College and Georgia Tech.
After the Terps fell to the Yellow Jackets 78-68, freshman Shaquille Cleare said that “halftime isn’t good for us, unless we’re up by 20. If we go down into halftime, we never come out with the momentum, even though we should, being down by so much.” Backing up the center’s words, a five-point North Carolina run before intermission sent Maryland reeling into the locker room, and an early layup from P.J. Hairston off a Pe’Shon Howard turnover put the Tar Heels up by nine points just 25 seconds into the second half.
“We got up 25-24 and I felt really good,” Turgeon said. “I thought ‘Okay, we haven’t made a shot, our defense is getting better,’ I had to sub a lot of guys because we were tired, and that lineup didn’t do a very good job. I only had them in for a minute, but it’s a two-point game, they miss a free throw, we don’t box out, tip it out, Hairston makes a layup, then Nick goes one-on-four and we’re supposed to be going last shot and they hit a three to go up seven. It could have been tied or down two at the half. Instead, it was seven. That’s big against good teams. That’s part of the process, I guess.”
A reinvigorated full-court press forced consecutive Marcus Paige turnovers that turned into a Jake Layman layup and a huge Faust three-pointer from the right corner, which brought Maryland within six points with 6:08 left. Following a Tar Heels timeout, however, they bled the shot clock until Paige atoned for his errors with a backbreaking three-pointer. James Michael McAdoo followed it up with a three-point play shortly thereafter, and North Carolina’s lead was swelled to 12.
“It happens,” said Dez Wells, Maryland’s leading scorer with 18 points. “You’re not going to make every shot every night. My hat goes off to those Carolina guys. They made tough shots. They made big shots when they needed to. That’s Roy Williams, that’s his teams. He gets his players fired up for every game. We just needed to make more shots tonight. We didn’t get them, but it happens. That’s basketball. You’re not going to make every shot every night.”