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Yet the Terps, who hit five three-pointers down the stretch, had one last chance to win or tie, trailing 85-83. However, May blocked a short jump shot attempt by Mike Jones and Jackie Manuel grabbed the rebound as time expired.
"[Jones] got a clean look and I knew he didn't have enough time to pass it," May said. "I was able to come from the weak side and get a big block."
It was May's third blocked shot of the night.
"Sean is unbelievable," Felton said. "Everybody always thinks about his offense, but in my opinion, his defense won the game."
With the win, the Tar Heels (24-3, 12-2 ACC) finished 6-2 on the road in the conference, an inverted improvement from their 2-6 league mark in away games last season. Carolina needs a victory Thursday over Florida State to clinch a share of the ACC regular season crown for the first time in four years; and a defeat of Duke on Sunday in the Smith Center to claim its only outright title since the 1992-93 season. That year UNC went on to win the NCAA championship over Michigan's Fab Five in New Orleans.
"They're the No. 2 team in the country and I want our guys to believe they can play with that," Terps coach Gary Williams said.
The Tar Heels have now all but locked up a No. 1 seed and a trip to Charlotte in the first round of the East Regionals in three weeks.
Here's a breakdown of the game's exciting final minutes:
3:28 – Felton spots May who takes the pass and slams home an alley-oop dunk; UNC, 80-72.
3:06 – John Gilchrist knocked down his only three-pointer of the game; UNC, 80-75.
2:41 – May is called for traveling while handling the ball out near the top of the key.
2:18 – Chris McCray nails his fifth three-pointer of the game; UNC, 80-78.
2:03 – Jawad Williams loses the ball out of bounds.
1:28 – Mike Jones hits his fourth three-pointer to give the Terps their first lead since the 6:22 mark of the first half; Maryland, 81-80.
1:25 – Roy Williams calls a 30-second timeout.
1:06 – Jawad Williams, who had missed his last two offerings from beyond the arc, connects on a three-pointer, UNC 83-81.
1:04 – Roy Williams calls another 30-second timeout.
46.2 – Gilchrist misses a layup and there is a tie-up underneath the basket. But Maryland keeps it on the jump ball alternating possession.
42.0 – Ekene Ibekwe scores off his own miss on a basket that maybe should have been credited to May; tied, 83-83.
19.2 – Felton's layup; UNC, 85-83.
19.0 – Roy Williams calls timeout.
6.8 – Gilchrist gets caught in a double-team in the corner, but the ball goes out of bounds off of a Carolina player and the Terps keep the ball.
6.7 – Gary Williams calls his final timeout.
1.9 – May blocks Jones' shot and Manuel rebounds. Maryland tries to foul, but it's too late; the game is over.
"We thought they might run a`screen the screener,' but they ran it in reverse," Roy Williams said of the game's final play. "They had the action going towards the corner, and we did a good job, and switched on it, and knocked it out of bounds. When it came back in, Jones tried to drive, and Sean made a big time block."
Even with Rashad McCants missing his second-straight contest with an intestinal ailment, the Tar Heels still put four in double-figures for the 21st consecutive game. Two players registered double-doubles (May 22 points, 11 rebounds; Felton 10 points, 10 assists), including May's sixth-straight, while Manuel just missed accomplishing the feat with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Jawad Williams added 21 points, going 7-for-11 and 3-for-6 from beyond the arc; and David Noel added 12 points. Noel and Manuel combined on two blocks and five steals.
Maryland (16-10, 7-8) was led by McCray's 25 points. Nik Caner-Medley scored 16, Gilchrist had 13 and Jones added 12 – all on threes.
"McCray and Jones made some big-time plays," Roy Williams said. "McCray played a fantastic basketball game, and Jones made came in and made those threes."
Carolina missed some early shots and turned the ball over on three of its first five possessions to start the game. Meanwhile, behind 16 first-half points by McCray, Maryland led 29-26 at the 8:00 minute mark of the opening period. But the Tar Heels, which wound up shooting 52 percent in the first half, found their range and executed a 21-7 run to head to the locker room up, 47-37.
May and Jawad Williams already had dozen points each, Felton had seven assists, and a breakaway dunk by Noel just before the buzzer sounded gave UNC a 10-point lead it would hold until midway in the second half.
Twice the Terps had cut the deficit to five in the second half, only to have the Tar Heels answer and extend their lead back to 10.
But Maryland's third run was nearly the charm. Finally, with 11:36 to play and Carolina ahead, 63-58, Mike Jones hit three falling down to cut its deficit to three.
Then moments later, Maryland tied it at 65, when Sterling Ledbetter got free down the lane for an uncontested layup. But despite 17,950 screaming mostly Terps fans whooping it up on Senior Night, the Tar Heels weren't rattled.
After a Marvin Williams free throw, Melvin Scott, who was 0-for-3 in the first half, hit his first three of the night. Later a three and a breakaway jam by Noel, and a stick back of a May miss by Manuel would again give Carolina a little breathing room ahead 76-68 with just under five minutes remaining.
Carolina shot 50 percent for the third time in its last four outings, and out-rebounded its opponent (44-35) for the fourth consecutive game. UNC committed 17 turnovers to the Terps' 11.