“The best team won today,” an agitated Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “The toughest team, the smartest team [and] the best coached team won today. That’s all I have to say.”
The Tar Heels (24-3, 10-3 ACC) led 52-36 with 14:17 left to play, holding Maryland to 32.6 percent shooting (14-of-43) in the first 25:43 of action. But as North Carolina has been prone to do over the past two seasons, the effort and intensity that built that margin dissipated, opening a window for the Terrapins (17-9, 6-6 ACC) to creep back in.
That window ended up being large enough to allow hundreds of students to rush the court in celebration after ending the Tar Heels’ 10-game winning streak.
“Coach [Gary] Williams kept telling us in the huddle not to give up because we could get right back into the game, and that is exactly what we did,” said Maryland wing Cliff Tucker, who scored 19 of his 22 points after intermission. “We kept fighting all game and once we tied the game up we knew we had a chance and everything fell into place.”
During the final 20 minutes of play, Maryland utilized its flex offense and connected on 17 of its final 25 shots for a blistering 68.0 percent, including 9-of-16 from 3-point range.
“There was only a little bit of time left, and they started fighting more and fighting more and we continued to just cruise through, I guess,” said guard Wayne Ellington, who scored 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
Greivis Vasquez delivered his program’s first triple-double in 22 years by posting 35 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds, and he capped the performance with two layups in the final 84 seconds of regulation – including a strong drive down the right side of the lane with eight seconds left to knot the score at 76. He didn’t let off the gas in overtime, drilling two 3-pointers and knocking down two free throws with five seconds left for the final margin.
“Greivis had a heck of a game – he made shots and got his team going,” Ellington said.
North Carolina went to Ty Lawson (24 points on 8-of-20 shooting) in the final seconds of regulation and overtime to pull out a miracle, but his first attempt was blocked and he was unable to get a shot off to close the extra period.
Maryland shot 48.0 percent in the first meeting between these two programs just 18 days ago, and after a 32.4 shooting display in the first half, the Terrapins closed with a 45.6 overall percentage. North Carolina connected on just 37.7 percent (29-of-77) of its fields goals, but the topic following this game was the Tar Heels continued inability to defend talented guards.
Vasquez joins Jack McClinton (35), Jeff Teague (34) and Toney Douglas (32) – you can throw in Boston College’s Tyrese Rice’s 25 points for good measure – as guards that were essentially unguardable for North Carolina.
Vasquez scored the Terrapins’ first 16 points on Saturday, connecting on 7-of-9 shots during one stretch.
“I was just ready to play,” the junior point guard said.
But a defensive switch that moved Lawson onto Vasquez worked flawlessly – for a while. The Maryland point guard was held scoreless for the next 19 minutes and one second, and then the fireworks began again.
“We haven’t done it as well as I wanted to do all year, and we didn’t do it as well as we wanted to today,” Williams said when asked about his team’s perimeter defense. “But it’s on both ends of the court – it wasn’t just our defense. It was our silliness, too.”
North Carolina coughed up 15 turnovers –several in the closing minutes – while dishing out just five assists. UNC won the rebounding battle, 51-40, but in talking with the players in the locker room after the game, it appears as though Maryland dominated the effort category.
Danny Green added 18 points and nine rebounds for North Carolina, while Deon Thompson (13 points, seven rebounds) and Tyler Hansbrough (11 points, 11 rebounds) joined their teammates in double figures.
The Tar Heels have to absorb the difficulties of this loss for a full week, as they don’t return to action until next Saturday, when Georgia Tech rolls into Chapel Hill for a noon tip.