Saturday’s Smith Center-worst 22-point loss to Wake Forest fit the bill but was just another stage toward the sandy bottom of an increasingly deep sea.
Perhaps tonight’s loss in College Park is a settling point.
If not, a long season is about to reach the never-ending point.
Juan Dixon scored 29 points and had eight steals and Steven Blake dished out 14 of Maryland’s 32 assists to lead the Terrapins to a 112-79 victory over the Tar Heels before a blood-thirsty crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House.
The reasons UNC lost were rather simple.
The Heels turned the ball over 25 times, including three players with four each and one with six, leading to 19 Maryland steals and 31 points. UNC was also badly outrebounded 43-31 - 23-11 in the first half - and played matador defense inside all night.
The result was the worst defensive night in the fabled program’s history as the Terps bettered Kentucky’s 110 points in December 1989, a game UNC ironically won by 11. It was also Carolina’s most lopsided loss ever to Maryland and worst overall since a 104-69 pummeling to Duke on Feb. 29, 1964.
“No question (losses test mettle as a coach), it’s hard,” said UNC head coach Matt Doherty about UNC’s last ever appearance in Cole Field House and a season that has the Heels now at 5-7 overall and 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “It is very hard and you say after games like this that it could be worse and there are people that are lot worse off than me and my family out there. But still you care and you wanna win and have a good showing and we certainly didn’t. It’s hard when you have 25 turnovers, and they had nine offensive rebounds in the first half … and I thought those were two keys.”
There is no one single area to point out as to why UNC lost, but poor defense is a good place to start, especially considering that the Heels shot 47.1 percent from the field for the game, including 53.3% in the first half, but were never really in contention.
The Terrapins assisted on six of their first seven field goals in taking a quick 17-8 lead with 15:27 left in the opening half. Although the Tar Heels cut the margin to 21-13 on a layup by Jawad Williams with 14:23 left, UNC turned the ball over eight times in the next 5:45 enabling the Terrapins to go on a 22-8 run increasing their lead to 43-18 with 8:38 left before halftime.
Brian Morrison (three turnovers) and Williams (four in the run and six overall) were mainly responsible for UNC’s stretch of benevolence.
“It’s frustrating,” said Kris Lang, who scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 22 minutes of action as he gets closer to a clean bill of health. “But you have to hand it to Maryland as well. They were hitting a lot of shots … they were swarming. Their whole team just stepped up.
“But it was frustrating, very frustrating because, the thing is, we are working hard in practice and believe it or not we do have confidence because we do go out and play hard but it’s a matter of things clicking and right now they aren’t during games.”
Despite being on life support, however, the Heels suddenly stiffened defensively and also found the bottom of the basket, going on a quick 8-0 run led by a pair of 3-pointers by Jason Capel and Morrison.
After the Terps responded with two quick buckets the Tar Heels cut the deficit to 49-34 with 4:01 left in the half on three scores from Williams and a Capel jumper.
The Terrapins, however, got their grumbling crowd excited once again as they closed the half on a 6-0 run - all interior baskets - and took a commanding 57-37 lead into the intermission.
“Nah, I didn’t know it was going to be this tough,” Capel said shaking his head as he put on his right shoe in the locker room. “We are in it now, we’re in it now and we’ve got to fight through it. We are all in this together, the coaches, everybody. We are in this together and we’ve got to keep playing and working hard and believing in each other and the sun is going to come up one day we just to keep believing.”
Capel led the Heels by equaling a career high with 27 points while grabbing five rebounds and handing out five assists. Ironically, the only other time the Fayetteville senior scored 27 points was in last season’s 86-83 UNC victory in College Park.
Seniors Lang and Brian Bersticker were the only other Tar Heels in double figures with 10 points each.
Blake also had 12 points for Maryland while Byron Mouton added 17 and blossoming sophomore Chris Wilcox poured in 16.
Maryland’s second-half lead reached 39 at 100-61 after a 3-pointer from Blake with 5:01 left.
Maryland improved to 12-2 and 2-0.
With UNC’s ship in dire straits, what does their captain do now?
“I told the team after the game ‘We don’t have options. We’ve got to stick together and have positive energy and we’ve got to come to practice tomorrow and watch the film, evaluate the film we’ll learn from it and we’ve got to move on,” Doherty said. “We’re not going to let down. This team, this program, this coaching staff is not going to lay it down. We are going to continue to forge ahead.
“Does that mean we are going to win on Saturday? There is no guarantee of that but we’re going to go out there and give it our best effort tomorrow in practice and try to get better. That’s the only that I know. That’s the only thing this program knows and I think the kids will follow along that line.”
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.