“When you have young kids sometimes they don’t feel the stress on the road,” Roy Williams said. “They don’t realize how difficult it is.”
There are no so-called “flex,” “Princeton-style” or any other deliberate offensive game plans in effect when the Tar Heels and Terrapins get together on the basketball court. The match-up makes for a biannual slugfest from the opening tip with the outcome to be determined in 40 feverishly tense minutes.
As in its win over Arizona on Saturday, things weren’t supposed to be this easy for UNC (13-5, 4-3 ACC) at Maryland – ranked 23rd by ESPN/USA Today. And they weren’t; at least not early on.
But thankfully for UNC fans, the Tar Heels’ one-two punch of Reyshawn Terry (20 pts., 9 rebs.) and David Noel (19 pts., 12 rebs.) returned in earnest while Tyler Hansbrough was bottled up early.
It was Noel’s first double-figure outing in four games – since scoring 14 in the loss at Virginia; and career-highs in rebounds for both.
Due to a beltway traffic accident, it was a late-arriving Comcast Center crowd. But by the time Maryland took its largest lead, 20-14, midway through the first half, 17,950 seats had now been occupied by mostly screaming Terps’ fans.
The Tar Heels managed to stay in striking range, no thanks to 14 first half points by D.J. Strawberry, along with the fact Carolina’s leading scorer and rebounder didn’t even get off his first shot until the 5:51 mark of the opening period – a successful 10-foot jumper by Hansbrough which pulled UNC within a point.
However things did loosen up for him as the game progressed.
“A lot of the guys came after me and I expect that,” said Hansbrough, who finished with 15 points. “I’m not pleased with the way that I played, but a win’s a win. The team really came through and we won. That’s what is important.”
Danny Green was the only other Tar Heel in double figures with 10 points.
As evidenced in their last five games, the Tar Heels must shoot well from outside to be effective offensively, and they did just that shooting better from three-point range (54.5 percent) than from the field overall (42.9 percent) in the first half. Meanwhile, UNC’s utter dominance on the boards – a 52-34 rebounding advantage – was also key.
After a back and forth opening stanza, Maryland took a 40-38 lead into the locker room, buoyed by 17 points off of 10 UNC turnovers. But an 8-2 Carolina run put the Tar Heels back up 46-42 going into the first TV timeout of the second half.
UNC also picked up the pace defensively down the stretch, holding Strawberry scoreless after intermission, and limiting Nik Caner-Medley, who had averaged a whopping 31.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in his last two contests, to 15 and 5.
“We held them to 26 percent shooting in the second half, which I thought was the best defensive half we’ve played this year,” Roy Williams said.
After Maryland (14-6, 4-3) closed to 57-54 with 6:50 to play, the Tar Heels went on a 7-0 run to bump the lead back to 10.
“North Carolina played better than we did,” Caner-Medley said. “They did what they had to do to win. Winning is the most important thing.”
“Carolina was hungry tonight,” Strawberry added.
Those seeking Terry’s most complete performance of the season need not look any further, as he has become a more consistent factor of late. Terry has scored 10 or more points in 14 of UNC’s 18 games this season, and put together solid performances in his last two games.
“[Terry] is coming each and every day and working his butt off,” Roy Williams said. “He’s trying to get better. He’s extremely gifted, and the things he’s trying to get better at are the hardest things.”
And Green’s role as the Tar Heels’ shot in the arm off the bench is quickly transforming from a trend into the norm. After going 2-for-3 from beyond the arc against the Terps, the New York freshman has converted 11 of his last 15 three-point attempts and averaging 13 points per game in his last four outings.
With the win, North Carolina leapt from ninth place to fourth in the ACC for now.
The Tar Heels look to improve on their incredible 51-0 home record versus Clemson (14-7, 3-5) on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Smith Center.