Monday, February 16, 2004

Terps Rally But Lose at NC 97-86

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

The Maryland Terrapins set the stage for another miraculous comeback at North Carolina's Smith Center Sunday afternoon. The curtain fell on the Terps' hopes, however, when the Tar Heels' Rashad McCants banked in a three-pointer to give Carolina a comfortable 92-83 lead with 2:01 remaining in the game.

Of course, for a team to put itself in position to make up a huge deficit, that usually means they got their brains beat in prior to the rally. That was certainly the case today, as the Tar Heels (15-7, 5-6) ran by the flat-footed Maryland (13-8, 4-6) team on their way to a 55-35 halftime lead.

After the teams traded the first two hoops of the game, Carolina took the lead for good. They dominated the first half in almost every conceivable fashion. The Heels pounded the Terps on the boards, holding a 30-16 edge. Carolina's aggressive play (and some home cooking by the officials) staked them to a 23-12 advantage in free throws attempted.

The Tar Heels made 58% of their shots in the first half, many of them easy layups when the Maryland defense barely even got in the way much less challenged the shooter. At the other end of the court, Carolina harassed the Terps into 30% shooting and blocked seven shots.

Time and time again, even into the second half, Maryland's front-line players (Jamar Smith, Travis Garrison, Nik Caner-Medley, and Ekene Ibekwe) took the ball inside and were quickly double and even triple-teamed. They forced up shots hoping to draw fouls but, when the whistles were not blown, were slow to adjust to that fact and kept missing scoring opportunities as a result.

Carolina received strong efforts from McCants (12 points, 5 rebounds), Sean May (10 points, 6 rebounds), and Jawad Williams (11 points), and they also got a surprising boost from Jackie Manuel. Recently named by the Raleigh News & Observer to their “William H. Macy” team (valuable players in supporting roles), Manuel was much more than that today. He scored 12 points on 4-4 shooting and gave the Heels a rare spark off the bench.

Fortunately for Maryland, they had halftime to regroup. The Terps apparently decided they wanted to try and win this game and came out of the locker room a different team. A McCants layup quickly pushed Carolina's lead out to 22 points, but Maryland responded with a 13-3 run to get back into the game. Every player on the court scored for the Terps who were suddenly doing all the things they didn't in the first half-making shots, forcing turnovers, drawing fouls and, more importantly, being the aggressors.

The Tar Heels did not roll over, however, and responded with a quick 7-0 run of their own and appeared to regain control of the game. Maryland did not roll over either and quickly responded with a run of their own. An acrobatic reverse layup by D. J. Strawberry and two spectacular fast break dunks by Ibekwe highlighted an 16-4 run that cut Carolina's lead to single digits, 72-66.

A three-pointer by John Gilchrist drew the Terps within 82-79 with 4;52 remaining in the game, but McCants answered with a three of his own. Smith then missed a tough jumper and Melvin Scott scored on a breakaway to push the Tar Heels' lead up to five.

An Ibekwe follow (Maryland's third shot on that possession) pulled the Terps back within 87-83 with 2:59 left, but two free throws by Jawad Williams (he made 13-16 for the game) and a miss by Caner-Medley set the stage for McCants' back-breaking bank shot. After the game, Gary Williams said in jest “That doesn't count in my mind because he banked it off the glass.”

Understandably, Williams was frustrated with the way his team played in the first half, saying “it looked like we didn't practice all week.” It appeared that the week off (the Terps had not played since defeating Florida State last Sunday), hurt more than helped Maryland today.

Williams said “I liked the way we played in the second half; I didn't like the way we played in the first half. You can't spot a nationally ranked team 20 points and expect to win very often. That being said, we had our chances and then had a couple of bad possessions down the stretch.”
There was a lot to like about the way Terps played after halftime. The Terps shot 47% and forced 12 North Carolina turnovers. They were closer in the rebounding totals, trailing 20-16. The discrepancy in free throws was something Maryland could not overcome. The Tar Heels made 36 of a staggering 50 attempts, while the Terps made 20 of their 30 free throws.

Chris McCray came to life in the second half for the Terps, scoring eight straight points in one stretch and finishing with a team-high 16. Smith scored 14 point for Maryland, and all five starters were in double figures. The Terps had 21 bench points, eight each coming from Strawberry and Ibekwe, who played his best game in a while.

McCants continued his hot streak with 25 points to lead North Carolina. Jawad Williams scored 23, and May and Manuel each added 14. May increased his ACC lead in rebounding by pulling down 12 board today.

Three-point shooting continues to be a weak area for Maryland. They connected on only 6-21 from beyond the arc, which made their comeback effort even more difficult.

Their play in the second half could give them some momentum going into Thursday's game with Georgia Tech. With four home games and two road games remaining, Maryland is still on a pace to finish 8-8 in the conference if they can hold serve at home. That becomes imperative when you look at the sites of the two road games—Duke and NC State, the two best teams in the ACC.

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland fell into seventh place in the ACC with their 4-6 record, but they are only one game out of third. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, both 5-5 in the conference, share third place tonight and both teams still have to play at the Comcast Center. Someone will have to finish seventh, and it could be the Terps, but we are still a long way from finding that out.

Prior to today's game, Maryland had won five of their last six meetings with North Carolina, and five of their last eight visits to the Smith Center. The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 109-53.
This was Gary Williams' first loss to “the other Williams,” having won the three previous times their two teams had played (twice vs. Kansas, once vs. North Carolina).

The Terps are now 3-5 vs. ranked opponents (1-4 on the road). There are four teams remaining on the schedule now in the Top 25, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Duke, and NC State.

North Carolina has the ACC's leading scorer (McCants), leading rebounder (May) and the leader in assists (Felton). So how can they have a losing record in the conference? If Gary Williams had three statistical leaders and was below .500 in the ACC, how much heat do you think he would be taking?

If Maryland's Jamar Smith and North Carolina's Jackie Manuel went head-to-head in a free throw shooting contest, would anyone win?

The day was not a total lost cause for Maryland fans—Duke lost. The Blue Devils dropped their first ACC game of the season, losing 78-74 at NC State.

Maryland's next game is Thursday night when they host Georgia Tech at 7 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Speaking of ESPN, did you notice that Dick Vitale was among the 16 finalists for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame? Discuss.


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