UNC played faster than it has all year on both ends of the court. The Tar Heels repeatedly got out in transition, and Maryland couldn’t keep up.
The offense came from the defense, which forced 15 turnovers and turned them into 14 points. Time and time again, the Tar Heels’ active hands knocked the ball loose and went off on the break.
“The defensive end sets the tone for our fast break,” point guard Marcus Paige said. “It’s hard to get the pace up and down when teams are scoring on you and you’re taking the ball out of the net. We forced the turnovers and got the stops.”
And the Tar Heels didn’t give up the open looks that have hurt them in their losses, especially from behind the arc — Maryland didn’t hit a three in the first half. The Tar Heels held Maryland to just 20 points before the break — one less than Bullock’s first-half total.
Paige and McAdoo both said it was the best half of basketball UNC has played all year.
Dexter Strickland capped the first half with a monster dunk with five seconds left. With Maryland looking for the last shot, Strickland stole the ball near midcourt, took it to the hoop and jammed it home, bringing the Smith Center crowd to its feet. The Tar Heels went into the locker room with a 42-20 lead.
That lead — built on the aggressiveness, tempo and transition game that Williams so strongly emphasizes — was enough that even when UNC slowed down in the second half, Maryland never got to within single digits.
Maryland did outscore the Tar Heels by 12 in the second half. Bullock cooled off — scoring just three points on 1-of-6 shooting after his 21-point first half — and UNC missed some open looks. The Tar Heels also started turning the ball over and gave Maryland more space to work with on offense, especially in the paint.
“That play you want to take off might be the play that loses you the game,” Bullock said. “We need to think of that and play hard for 40 minutes.”
But UNC had run its way to such a big lead after the first half that Maryland could never really get close.
“In the games that we’ve lost, we’ve just played lackadaisical,” McAdoo said. “When we get out and run and feel the range, everything’s so much easier.”