Barnes knocked down three 3-pointers in the opening four minutes of play as North Carolina (22-6, 12-2 ACC) jumped out to an early 13-5 lead. The Terrapins (18-11, 7-7 ACC) tied it up with an 8-0 spurt, but the Tar Heels eventually closed the half on a 21-10 run to take a 43-31 advantage into the locker room.
Maryland cut its deficit to 54-47 with 14:10 remaining, but UNC put the game away with a 14-4 run to build a 17-point lead with 7:06 left to play. Freshman guard Terrell Stoglin (28 points on 11-of-20 shooting) helped make it interesting with a late flurry that inched the Terrapins within eight points with 1:47 remaining, but the Tar Heels connected on five of their final six free throws to ice the double-digit victory.
Leslie McDonald added 15 points and John Henson flirted with a triple-double with 10 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks.
The Tar Heels held the Terrapins to 41.1 percent shooting (30-of-73), while connecting on just 40.0 percent (32-of-80) of their own field goal attempts. North Carolina outrebounded Maryland, 49-43.
INSIDE THE GAME
An Extra Coat in the Paint
There were plenty of concerns surrounding this North Carolina basketball team on that long flight home from Puerto Rico three months ago, but one of the most glaring issues was UNC’s lack of physicality in the post. Minnesota and Vanderbilt roughed up the Tar Heels inside, and John Henson was benched in the second half against the Commodores for erratic play.
The prevalent thought was that the slender duo of Zeller and Henson would be bullied by legitimate post presences throughout the course of the season. Maryland’s Jordan Williams was highlights as just that type of player, but as the game clock wound down to triple zeros on Sunday, it was clear that the Tar Heel tandem has made exponential strides since Thanksgiving.
Williams’s tied Len Elmore’s school record with 22 double-doubles after posting 16 points and 19 rebounds against North Carolina, but Zeller and Henson worked together to frustrate the first-team All-ACC candidate defensively while combining for 31 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocks in the post.
But more important than the statistics was the fact that Williams did not own the paint the way many may have thought he would. The sophomore center was unable to use his size to overpower the collective length of Henson and Zeller.
“I think people are just naturally going to call us soft because we’re not the biggest guys,” Henson said. “But we fight hard and that’s something we pride ourselves in. Together with Justin Knox, I think we’re great down there, so we’ve just got to keep it going.”
The Tar Heels emerged victorious in the 12-round prize fight as Williams fouled out with 40.4 seconds left to play.
McDonald Finding His Rhythm
To find the last time Leslie McDonald made more than three field goals in a game, you have to journey all of the way back to Feb. 2, when the sophomore guard connected on four of his nine shots against Boston College. In fact, McDonald had totaled just six field goals in his last four games, but he matched that amount in 20 minutes against Maryland, scoring 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
But the coaching staff kept putting the Memphis, Tenn. native on the floor not just because they had faith that his shot would eventually fall. They kept checking him into the game because McDonald has developed into more than just a wild trigger off the bench.
Over his last five games, McDonald has tallied eight offensive rebounds, 15 total rebounds and seven steals. Against the Terrapins, he refused to settle for the 3-point shot despite knocking down three of his five treys, driving to the basket and then hitting the glass consistently.
“When you come into the game, you just don’t want to be a sitting duck,” McDonald said. “If your shot is not falling, where do you contribute to the game? So I feel like if I’m getting rebounds and making big plays, getting steals and making assists, I feel like I’m contributing.”
Offensive Sharing Early and Often
The Tar Heels had dished out 10 or fewer assists in four of their last five games entering Sunday’s contest, but Maryland’s willingness to engage in a fullcourt game allowed Kendall Marshall and the rusty transition game to roll along in the opening 15 minutes.
When Dexter Strickland found McDonald for a 3-pointer on the right wing with 5:25 to play before halftime, North Carolina had notched its 12th assist on 13 made field goals. The result was a 34-27 UNC lead that Maryland would never be able to crack.
“We got out and started running,” Marshall said. “Harrison had nine of the first 11 points, he was just knocking down shots and getting open. We were feeding ‘Z’ down low and he was converting on those. The main thing if you want to get high percentage shots is to get out and run – you’re going to get lay-ups and open jump shots.”
Marshall finished with 10 assists against four turnovers that extended his ACC-leading assist mark to 89 in league play – 20 more than Duke’s Nolan Smith. But Strickland stole the show against Maryland with a career-high eight assists to go along with just one turnover.
Barnes Keeps On Shooting
Harrison Barnes notched his fourth 20-point game of the season against Maryland, but needed 23 field goal attempts to reach that point total. Those 23 shots tied Rashad McCants’s record (vs. Wake Forest and Texas in ’03-‘04) for field goal attempts during the Roy Williams era at North Carolina.
Sunday marked the fourth straight game that Barnes has posted more field goal attempts than points in the box score. The freshman wing is averaging 16 points on 35.1 percent shooting (26-of-74) during that stretch.
Barnes (9-of-23, 3-of-10 on 3-pointers) admitted in his post game interview that he was consistently working to improve his shot selection.
“It’s a balance,” Barnes said. “There’s a mixture. There’s some good and there’s some bad. You just have to go back and look at those and make sure you shoot good percentage shots.”
A Lesson in Building a Double-Digit Halftime Lead
North Carolina’s shooting woes have been well documented this season and Sunday’s first-half performance was no exception. The Tar Heels missed 13 of their first 17 field goal attempts en route to a 34.7 shooting display (17-of-49).
But yet UNC led 43-31 at halftime. While the shots may not have been falling, the Tar Heels were sharp in their execution of several other key statistical elements – field goal percentage defense (34.2, 13-of-38), assist-to-turnover ratio (14:4) and rebounding margin (34-24, 15-6 on offensive glass).
North Carolina’s rebounding advantage allowed for 11 more field goal attempts than Maryland and resulted in 10 points off the offensive rebounds.
The Tar Heels have now led at halftime in nine straight games.