North Carolina (20-3, 7-1 ACC) overcame a raucous crowd early to grab a 12-7 lead, but Maryland (13-9, 3-5 ACC) responded with an 8-0 run to take a 17-15 advantage. Strong play by the Terrapin bench helped to increase that lead to 29-24 and Maryland eventually entered halftime with a 40-37 lead.
The Terrapins opened the second half with an 8-2 spurt and the Comcast Center was on the verge of exploding, but North Carolina countered with an 11-2 run to knot the game at 50. Maryland moved back out in front by five, but a 25-13 run flipped the game in UNC's favor for good.
Harrison Barnes, who re-injured his left ankle early in the second half, drained a jumper with 1:02 to play to give the Tar Heels a 76-70 lead.
Tyler Zeller led UNC with 22 points and Barnes added 18 points. John Henson posted a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Kendall Marshall tied his UNC record for most assists in an ACC game with 16.
Terrell Stoglin paced Maryland with 20 points, but missed 13 of his 21 shots, including eight of his nine 3-pointers. Alex Len score 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Sean Mosley and Nick Faust both added 11 points for the Terrapins.
The Tar Heels shot 44.3 percent (31-of-70), while holding their opponents to 41.0 percent (25-of-61). North Carolina outrebounded Maryland, 46-39 (19-13 OR).
INSIDE THE GAME
North Carolina made a habit out of rallying from second–half deficits last season to secure ACC victories, but that hasn't been the modus operandi of this Tar Heel edition.
UNC's largest deficit overcome in victory had been eight points against Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. The Terrapins increased its halftime lead to 48-39 with an 8-2 spurt to open the second half, conjuring memories of Florida State's opening second-half run to bury UNC three weeks ago.
"At Florida State – we tried to put that game behind us, but it was a small lead and we let it get away from us early in the second half," Marshall said. "This time they got it up to nine, but we were able to regroup and find a way to get it done."
UNC got it done with defense. Before Stoglin drained a pair of free throws to push Maryland's lead to 48-38 with 17:24 to play, the Terrapins had connected on 45.5 percent of their field goal attempts. After that point, UNC held them to 35.7 percent shooting (10-of-28).
"Boy, I thought defensively it was our best game of the year in the second half," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference.
But it took more than defense to deliver this comeback. Zeller played like the workhorse that's he become over the last month, scoring 18 points before picking up his fourth foul with 11:49 to play. It would be exactly eight minutes before the seven-footer would return, but during that stretch, his teammates turned a two-point deficit into a three-point lead.
While Zeller admitted to being frustrated about picking up his fourth foul, he also indicated that his fellow Tar Heels softened the blow.
"It makes it pretty easy when your teammates are playing as well as they did," Zeller said.
When a UNC assistant asked Zeller about being ready to go back in the game, the senior told the coach to let his teammates keep playing because they were doing so well.
That level of trust is the kind of intangible that can't be developed in summer pickup games or during practice. It has to been learned on the court in critical situations. That type of benefit only increases as the season progresses.
Saturday didn't start off well for UNC's sophomore point guard. It took roughly 12 minutes for Marshall to notch his fifth turnover of the game, tying his second-worst turnover total of the season and inching within two of tying his season-high of seven.
But UNC needed Marshall to elevate his play in the most hostile setting of the 2011-12 campaign. After a nine-assist, five-turnover first half, he responded with a seven-assist, one-turnover second half and took over the game with a solid defensive effort and numerous hustle plays.
With North Carolina trailing 57-54 with 11:19 to play, Marshall stole the ball from Len under Maryland's basket, exploded up the court and found Henson for a transition dunk. Two possessions later, Marshall stole the ball from James Padgett near midcourt and found Barnes for a 3-pointer to give UNC a lead that it would never relinquish.
But then things got interesting for Marshall. With 8:34 left on the clock, he picked up his fourth foul.
"I told him he had to be smart because we needed him in the game," Williams said, noting that he only pulled Marshall out for about 70 seconds. "… We had a one-point lead or a three-point lead and I just didn't want to get the crowd back into it. I thought Kendall could play intelligently enough to stay away from his fifth foul."
Marshall played the final 7:18 without fouling out and tied his own UNC record for assists in an ACC game (against Florida State last season) with 16. His final stat line read nine points, 16 assists, six turnovers, three rebounds and two steals.
"[Marshall] is as good as I've ever seen," Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. "He's something else – 16 assists. He had six turnovers which is not his style. I like to think I can see things being a former point guard. He see things coming on the break and he's really at another level."
Bench Production Woes
Credit James Michael McAdoo with providing some critical minutes in the second half after Zeller picked up his fourth foul, but that effort only served as cover for a problem created by injuries.
North Carolina's bench was outscored 24-6 on Saturday, including a 16-2 differential in the first half. In the four games since Dexter Strickland was lost for the season with an ACL tear, UNC's bench has been outscored 80-42. That margin has been 37-9 over the past two games.
Bullock and P.J. Hairston delivered an offensive boost off the bench early in the season, but Bullock's move into the starting lineup and Hairston's ever-growing slump – 10-of-43 (6-of-33 3FG) in eight ACC games – has decimated any firepower outside of the starting five and McAdoo's limited scoring (3.1 ppg in ACC play) only adds to the problem.
Injuries have tied Williams's hands with regard to bench production, but a Hairston revival and more quality minutes from McAdoo like he played against Maryland will be necessary as March approaches.
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