UNC went 7:59 during a stretch in the second half that saw Maryland turn a 41-39 lead into a 55-41 advantage and pull away from the frigid Heels for an 81-66 victory before a sellout crowd of 21,750 at the Dean E. Smith Center.
"You have to give Maryland a lot of credit," UNC coach Matt Doherty said. "They've got a fabulous team and an experienced team. I thought they held it together when we made our runs."
After trailing by as many as 17 late in the first half, UNC cut the defending national champions' margin to two on a Raymond Felton 3-pointer with 17:08 left in the game. In fact, Felton's 3 capped a personal eight-point barrage to open the final period, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
"I think we've seen this year that when we've gotten down we've fought back," Doherty said. "Whether it's Rutgers, at Virginia, or here against Maryland."
But as has been the case so many times, Carolina's often-unimaginative offense struggled to not just score, but get quality looks, and the Terrapins (11-4, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who started five seniors, took advantage and built the aforementioned 14-point lead.
"We just need to move the ball more on offense to create better shots for each other," freshman wing Rashad McCants said. "We have guys that can score, but we just need to be able to hit more shots."
The Heels made a few more charges, trimming Maryland's lead to 61-53 with 5:14 left after a trey and jam by Jawad Williams. But Maryland's experience, size, and offensive rebounding coupled with UNC's inefficiency allowed the Terps to win comfortably.
"It's a tough matchup because of their size," Doherty said. "When guys get tired, (Maryland's) Tahj Holden is still 6'9", 270 (pounds). I think that's tough."
The lack of an inside threat was one reason for the drought, Doherty said.
"That's part of the game. And when you don't have a guy that can get you some easy ones in and around the basket some times, whether it be an offensive rebound and a put-back, or a set play."
UNC (11-6, 2-2) had one more series of opportunities but couldn't cash in.
Down 67-57 and Maryland unable to deliver the knock out punch, McCants (26 points, eight rebounds) was called for a questionable charge, had a layup blocked, and missed a 3-pointer on successive possessions. But although UNC closed to 68-60, the Terrapins eventually sealed the deal at the free throw line, hitting 10 freebies for the final margin.
McCants said the Terps' defense forced UNC (14 turnovers) into mistakes.
"When you clog the middle and they are tightening up on the perimeter, you drive and once you get in there the big men step up and there's not many options form there," the freshman from Asheville said.
Poor shooting didn't help either. Carolina was a woeful 34.8 percent (23-66) from the floor, with many of the misses leading to easy Maryland baskets, helping the Terps to a healthy 30-59 effort from the field.
"Maybe," McCants said when asked if one reason Maryland got so many easy shots in transition was because of UNC's shot selection and numerous long misses. "They were playing really good defense and we were taking shots when the shot clock was down, and of course (they got) long rebounds and they got them and pushed the ball really fast."
Drew Nicholas led Maryland with 20 points while Steve Blake added 17, Ryan Randle 16, and Holden finished with 11.
Jawad Williams added 18 points and seven rebounds for the Tar Heels.
The first half was also about Maryland spurts. The Terrapins turned a 10-10 game into a 26-12 affair by taking advantage of Carolina's miscues on offense, some of which were forced by the visitors. In fact, the Terps had five layups and two 3s during the run, which was followed up with an 11-0 spurt moments later to go up 37-20 with 3:27 remaining before intermission.
But Carolina cut the deficit nearly in half by closing the period with a 9-2 run, highlighted by a McCants slam after a nifty dish from the top of the key by freshman center Byron Sanders. Maryland led 39-31 at the half.
But despite the overall shooting performance, Maryland's accuracy, and a 10-rebound disadvantage, it mostly came down to the drought and Carolina's inability to get good looks for lengthy stretches. Afflicted with this problem in most every game, this time UNC couldn't weather it.
"It's something we've got to work on, to get better at," said Felton, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals. "We just don't knock down shots at times, and tonight we didn't again."
And unless the Heels can figure out a way to avoid the ugly stretches, losses similar to this are still to come.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.