In a game that in some respects resembled UNC’s loss at Kentucky on Jan. 3, Carolina stormed out in front in the first half and led by as many as ten points midway through the opening period, fell behind in the second half by eight on two occasions, then rallied to tie the game with a couple minutes left, before falling behind again as time finally ran out.
“We’ve just got to play harder,” Raymond Felton said. “That’s all it is.”
Carolina fell to 10-3 overall and 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Maryland improved to 10-3; 1-1 in the league.
Rashad McCants tied the score at 78-78 with his first 3-pointer of the game and then got the Tar Heels within a field goal at 86-84 when he hit another with three seconds remaining. But McCants crossed the end line defending the subsequent in bounds pass and was whistled for a technical foul. Maryland guard Chris McCray then made both free throws and Nik Caner-Medley scored on the Terps’ free possession for the final margin.
“It wasn’t the best scenario in the world, but I really thought if we could stop them from getting the ball in bounds there, we would win the daggum game,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “The kids kept fighting. It’s unfortunate that some people are going to make a big deal out of that play at the end. What Rashad did was just a reaction.”
Jamar Smith scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down nine rebounds to lead four Maryland players in double-figures, while Sean May scored 18 points and nine rebounds, but shot just 7-of-19 from the floor.
“I played like a big baby out there,” May said. “I knew Jamar Smith was good; he’s a great player. He did what he had to do to help his team win and I didn’t.”
Point guard John Gilchrist added 20 points, as he and Smith outplayed their more highly regarded counterparts’ Felton and May.
“We came back and played with a lot of poise in the second half, I think we’re getting to the point that we can do that now,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “John Gilchrist had an excellent game against a very good point guard; and in the second half, our players did a good job of getting Jamar Smith the ball.”
Jawad Williams, who played most of his 12 minutes with an orthopedic mask protecting his broken nose, was relatively ineffective. McCants also struggled from the field with a 6-of-16 shooting effort.
As a team, the Tar Heels made 32.4 percent of their baskets in the second half, while Maryland shot over 54 percent in both halves.
“We fought back and got the scored tied, but then we missed four of our next five shots,” Roy Williams said. “Raymond missed a tough one in front of our bench and then they broke out with a layup on the other end.”
Following a fast break dunk by David Noel, the Tar Heels led 29-20 with just over 10 minutes remaining before intermission. Moments later, the Terps pulled within three points when Ekene Ibekwe slammed home a missed shot. However the 6-9 freshman picked up a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Melvin Scott then converted the free throws and Raymond Felton added two straight field goals to temporarily put the brakes on the Maryland momentum.
The Terrapins would get within one before Carolina would take a 49-47 lead into intermission, despite being out-rebounded by the Terps 22-17 and allowing them to shoot 54.5 percent from the floor in the first half.
Maryland battled back to tie the score early in the second half and then went back ahead 56-54 for the first time since the game’s early stages on a McCray fast-break finish. The Terps would lead by as many as seven points before back-to-back baskets by Noel and May, and two Jackie Manuel free throws cut the Tar Heels deficit to 62-61 midway through the second half.
But when Caner-Medley nailed a 3-pointer with Manuel recovering from a fall at his feet, and after Gilchrist nailed two free throws, Maryland had its biggest lead at 69-61 and the Tar Heels were in serious trouble on the road.
Nothing gets easier for the Tar Heels as they face No. 1 Connecticut Saturday at the Smith Center.