UNC turned in its best start of the ACC season by jumping out to a 19-3 lead with 15:00 left on the clock, marking the second time in three days the Tar Heels built a substantial lead early. UNC led N.C. State 18-4 before eight minutes had ticked off the clock on Saturday.
The Tar Heels connected on eight of their first 10 field goals – led by James Michael McAdoo’s nine points on 4-of-5 shooting – while overwhelming the Terrapins defensively. Maryland missed six of its first seven shots – two were blocked and another was an air ball – and committed four turnovers that UNC turned into six points.
The Tar Heels were on fire and the Smith Center was catching.
“I can’t explain it; it was crazy,” freshman center Kennedy Meeks said. “Everybody was hyped. The students were hyped, the coaches were hyped. I think that helped us out a lot with getting the steals that we got, the rebounds we got and the points we got.”
The momentum swung back across the spectrum over the next 6:50, however, as Maryland answered UNC’s charge with a 16-3 spurt to pull within 22-19.
“The game was really a lot of fun the first four or five minutes,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “After that it got to be a lot like work.”
The Terrapins were 7-of-15 from the floor during that stretch, but primarily took advantage of UNC’s sloppy play and willingness to dine on perimeter jumpers.
The Tar Heels missed eight of their nine field goal attempts – including five 3-pointers – and committed turnovers on three consecutive possessions to allow Maryland to gain traction and quiet the Smith Center crowd.
After Seth Allen’s 3-pointer to cut the lead to 19-6, Nate Britt, Joel James and Brice Johnson subbed in for starters James Michael McAdoo, Leslie McDonald and Meeks. And then the troubles began.
“We brought in some subs and we weren’t nearly as good offensively and we turned it over and took some bad shots and that led to run-outs for them,” Williams said. “We didn’t do a good job stopping their break. Then when we went back and put the starters back in, we were anxious on the offensive end and we took several bad shots.”
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige explained how UNC’s poor shot selection and lack of efficiency spurred Maryland’s run.
“They don’t like to break a whole bunch, but when they get run-outs and we take bad shots, that’s when they really thrive in transition,” Paige said. “They have the athletes to really score in transition. You saw in that stretch in the middle of the first half where we took a bunch of quick shots…
"That’s what allowed them to get going. When our defense was set tonight, it was pretty good. But a couple of quick shots and being careless and casual with the ball allowed them to come back.”
Following a two-and-a-half minute period of inadequacy – both teams combined to miss eight field goals while committing three turnovers – UNC regained control over the final 3:07 in closing with an 11-2 run. The Tar Heels scored four baskets on four assists and Marcus Paige added a pair of free throws to offset Maryland’s lone scoring on two Jake Layman free throws.
The Tar Heels forced 12 turnovers in the first half and capitalized with a 15-5 edge in points off turnovers.
Williams stressed during one of the final media timeouts the need for his team to return to how they started the game – being patient to create good looks and thereby preventing easy run-outs.
UNC’s margin of error is smaller this season than the typical Williams squad has been, although torching opponents off the tip give the Tar Heels an adequate cushion to help make up for mistakes, according to McAdoo.
Absorbing Maryland’s 16-3 run provides a case in point.