CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — By halftime of Maryland’s game Saturday at North Carolina, the unbridled joy created by Terrapins’ last-second win over No. 14 North Carolina State just three days earlier had vanished. After Tar Heels swingman Reggie Bullock zapped Maryland’s confidence with a barrage of first-half jumpers, all that remained was disappointment for the Terrapins, who rarely challenged in a 62-52 loss, their third in four games.
The Tar Heels entered an enigmatic bunch, with ACC losses to Miami and Virginia but also a solid victory at Florida State. But they emerged on fire, doubling up the Terps by halftime. Bullock alone outscored Maryland, 21-20, before intermission.
The Terps didn’t just struggle to handle the thumping, Carolina-blue atmosphere. They became completely unglued, rattled by half-court traps that had them rifling silly passes that North Carolina turned into breakaway layups. In all, Maryland coughed up the ball 15 times in the first half.
“We weren’t very good. It’s pretty obvious,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We threw the ball to them a lot more than sometimes we threw it to us. But give the crowd credit, give North Carolina credit. It’s disappointing. Fifteen in one half is too many. Great environment, tough, we just kept fumbling the ball, fumbled them, fumbled passes, just one of those days.”
The excitement generated by Wednesday’s win over the Wolfpack masked another offensively challenged game for the Terps, and they continued to struggle from the field against the Tar Heels (12-5, 2-2). After Bullock scored the game’s first eight points, the Terps never recovered, first scoring on an Alex Len layup with 16 minutes 43 seconds left. A five-man lineup change provided no spark, either. Maryland got within 15 points after Nick Faust hit the first of two free throws, but North Carolina closed the half on a 9-0 run, capped off by a Dexter Strickland steal-and-dunk off a Pe’Shon Howard turnover, the fifth of the half for the junior point guard.
The Terps narrowed their deficit to 10 points late in the second half but were still unable to crack the double-digit barrier, as they were out-hustled on the defensive boards while still struggling from the field. Dez Wells finished with a team-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, but committed five turnovers. Len finished in double figures (10 points) for the fifth straight game, but by and large was rendered ineffective in the post.
The Terps shot 1 for 12 from three-point range, at times looking confounded during their half-court sets. Charles Mitchell had nine points and 11 rebounds, but no other Maryland player finished with more than four. Center Shaquille Cleare, earning his second straight start, was hampered by foul trouble, while Howard finished with seven turnovers against zero assists in only 13 minutes, tying the ACC’s single-game high for giveaways this season. Maryland (14-4, 2-3) had 21 turnovers as a team.
“We were trying to run at the tempo of another team,” Mitchell said. “When you do that and not play Maryland basketball, it’s going to break off. I feel like it was another team. That’s not Maryland basketball, trying to force passes and force shots, force a lot of things that we really don’t force in the past few games. We just have to slow down, think before we make any decisions.”
Turgeon heaped praise onto North Carolina’s “hungry” crowd and team, but the Terps couldn’t adjust after getting steamrolled by Bullock early. Instead, they were again sloppy and inconsistent from the field, shooting worse than 40 percent for the fourth straight game. Perhaps they were rattled by the atmosphere, as Turgeon suggested. Perhaps they lost their identity in the first-half fray and never recovered, like Mitchell said.
The Terps are still searching for answers, especially offensively. But they weren’t found here, inside the Dean E. Smith Center, where Maryland seemed as lost as ever this season.
“I thought we were going to play great, I really did,” Turgeon said. “I thought we were confident. I thought we were going to play pretty well. You have to give them credit. They were so good out of the chute, and we just didn’t respond to it, weren’t mature to respond to the way they came out and played and made shots and pressured.”