But no amount of effort could close the gap on the Tar Heels’ superior skill and depth. And true to seeding and recent experience, top-seeded North Carolina cruised to an 85-69 victory over the eighth-seeded Terrapins to claim a spot in Saturday’s semifinals.
It was the third time in the last five weeks that Maryland had tangled with North Carolina and lost. The inescapable conclusion is that the Tar Heels simply keep getting better — finding yet another way to win Friday after losing center John Henson to a wrist injury seven minutes into the proceedings — while the Terrapins have exhausted what limited weapons they have.
Maryland was led by sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin’s 30 points. And while the Terrapins battled hard on defense after a shaky start, paring an 18-point deficit to seven in the second half, they lacked the firepower and front-court muscle to sustain a credible fight.
The second half was well underway before Maryland’s front court managed a single point, outscored by North Carolina’s, 28-0, until then.
When the final statistics were tallied, the Tar Heels (28-4) outscored Maryland, 34-22, in the paint, won the rebounding battle, 41-34, and placed five players in double figures, with sophomores Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock pacing the team with 15 points each. Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall finished with 12 assists and, in doing so, set an ACC single-season assist record (311).
North Carolina’s reward is a shot at what would be an 18th ACC championship, provided it gets past North Carolina State in the semifinals on Saturday, and a compelling case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Maryland, meantime, has almost certainly brought its campaign under first-year Coach Mark Turgeon to an end, with hope of an National Invitation Tournament bid looking remote given the team’s 17-15 record. Last year’s squad went 19-14 and was overlooked by the NIT.
“It was a great run for us,” said senior Sean Mosley, who had 10 points, six rebounds and two assists in what was likely his final game at Maryland. “I think we matured during the season, and that’s the only thing you could ask with a new coach, new coaching staff, new system and everything. . . . We gave our all today. And that shows a lot.”
Philips Arena was far from full for the noon tip-off, but the colors and loyalties of the crowd on hand were decidedly Carolina blue.
Henson got the scoring going with a nifty spin move to the basket. Turgeon shredded his vocal chords screaming, “Run back! Run back!” at his team lingered under the basket rather than sprinting down the court on defense.
With Maryland trailing by double digit after less than six minutes, Stoglin hit a three-pointer that made it 20-13.
Maryland battled on the boards, and Turgeon’s entire coaching staff and much of the bench was on its feet, screaming, stomping and urging them on in a fast-paced, physical first half.
After four fruitless North Carolina possessions, Stoglin drilled a three-pointer and freshman guard Nick Faust drove for a layup and let out a roar. Suddenly, the Terrapins were within three, trailing, 22-19.
Stoglin later hit all his free throws when fouled on a three-pointer. But a protracted drought followed in which Maryland managed only one field goal in the final 10 minutes of the half.
After falling behind by 10, Mychal Parker snapped the drought, making it 32-25. But the Terrapins couldn’t get their shots to fall, the ball circling the rim and refusing to fall. With 94 seconds remaining in the period, Zeller got two put-backs to restore the 10-point lead, 36-26.
North Carolina opened the second half on an 8-0 run that included back-to-back three-pointers by Bullock. Jumpers by Faust, Stoglin and Ashton Pankey pulled the Terrapins within seven. But that was as close as they’d get.