Tar Heels capitalize on game of runs
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Winter Storm Saturn was supposed to produce 5 to 8 inches of snow. But by the time North Carolina’s 7 p.m. game tipped off Wednesday, the grass around College Park was far more green than white.
Sure, it was bitterly cold and rainy, but the weather was nowhere near as dreary as it could’ve been.
In a nutshell, that was UNC’s night.
The Tar Heels ultimately came away from the Comcast Center with a 79-68 win, but given UNC’s at-times tumultuous first half and a threatening Maryland second-half run, it would’ve been difficult to forecast such a decisive end.
In a tough road environment — and on Maryland’s senior night, no less — the Terrapins applied constant pressure to the Tar Heels. Two months ago, when UNC last took on Maryland and was widely considered a team on the bubble, that pressure might have been enough to derail the Tar Heels’ night.
But not Wednesday.
“They’ve bought into the sense of urgency idea,” Williams said. “They bought into the unselfishness, and they do what we asked them to do, and they compete.
“I’m really proud of them. I’ve brought some really good teams in here. We won a national championship in ’09, but we didn’t win here.”
UNC jumped out to an early 12-4 lead — a stretch in which all five starters tallied a field goal — but the Terrapins came storming back, and the lead switched hands eight times in the half.
In the first half, the Tar Heels were outscored 16-6 in the paint, allowed 14 second-chance points and committed seven turnovers — four by point guard Marcus Paige. But on the strength of a 10-0 run to the end the half, the Tar Heels were able to overcome those ominous deficiencies.
“Mistakes happen. There’s little mistakes that we can get better on,” senior guard Dexter Strickland said. “We just kept our focus. We didn’t get rattled up.”
And the Tar Heels kept getting tested.
After extending its lead to as many as 16 points seven minutes into the second half, Maryland went on a 7-0 run to narrow the margin to nine. But a P.J. Hairston layup ended the run and seemingly stole momentum back for UNC.
That momentum was short lived.
Again, UNC’s mistakes began to manifest themselves. A pair of Paige turnovers helped fuel an 11-2 run that brought Maryland to within six points of the lead with just 6:08 left.
Disaster seemed imminent, but again, UNC staved it off.
“We played with poise; we didn’t let their run affect us,” said Hairston, who led all scorers with 22 points. “We had a couple of turnovers, which led to a layup and a 3-point basket. After that, we played with poise and hit some shots.”
Paige, who finished with eight turnovers, atoned for his transgressions with a pivotal 3-pointer to extend the Tar Heel lead back to nine, 66-57. And the rest of his teammates followed suit as the UNC lead never dipped below nine points for the rest of the night.
In UNC’s early conference slate, those Maryland runs could’ve pushed the Terrapins over the edge. But the Tar Heels have grown thicker skin since their January defeats.
And when disaster seemed to brew Wednesday, the Tar Heels came away a little wet, a little cold, but ultimately victorious.
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