Tar Heels continue success with small lineup

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Dexter Strickland goes up for a layup in the final seconds of UNC’s 11-point win against Maryland in College Park. Strickland finished with eight points and six assists.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The last time the North Carolina men’s basketball team faced Maryland, it was still working with a typical lineup — two post players, three guards.

Two weeks later, coach Roy Williams switched to a smaller starting corps, employing four guards.

The success with the small lineup has been well-documented, but UNC’s 79-68 win against Maryland (20-10, 8-9 ACC) Wednesday night truly showcased just how far the Tar Heels (22-8, 12-5 ACC) have grown throughout ACC play — regardless of who’s on the court.

Williams has said during the season that his team must crash the boards to be successful. In the two teams’ first meeting in Chapel Hill, the Terrapins out-rebounded the Tar Heels 41-39.

Switching to a four-guard lineup to match up against 7-foot-1 Alex Len and 6-foot-8 James Padgett could have been disastrous for the Tar Heels on the glass, but instead, Williams saw his guards rise to the challenge.

James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina’s only true starting big man, grabbed only two rebounds, but guards Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston brought down 12 and eight boards, respectively.

The wings combined for 41 of UNC’s 79 points — Bullock put up 19 points, and Hairston contributed a game-high 22.

The Terrapins still outrebounded North Carolina 34-33, but Williams was pleased with how his team responded after a poor performance on the glass against Clemson a week ago.

“That’s been the key the last couple of games,” Hairston said. “I would finish with three or four rebounds. This game I knew that Maryland was leading the conference in rebounding, so my goal was just to crash the boards.”

Though Maryland exploited the mismatch down low, scoring 40 points in the paint to North Carolina’s 16, the Tar Heels countered with big performances from behind the arc from Bullock and freshman Marcus Paige.

Paige, who committed a season-high eight turnovers, knocked down three of UNC’s 10 3-pointers. None was more important than the one he sunk with 16 seconds remaining in the first half to cap a 10-0 UNC run.

“He bounced back quickly,” senior guard Dexter Strickland said. “We need him to do that. If he turns the ball over, he can’t dwell on that turnover and let it affect his game.”

The win gives UNC its sixth consecutive win and third straight on the road. Earlier in the season, North Carolina struggled in contests away from the Smith Center, losing four to teams ranked in the top five of the ACC.

But Wednesday night in College Park, the Tar Heels showed that they are invested in Williams’ system, wherever they’re playing.

“We all bought in,” Hairston said. “We realized that even though we’re on the road, that we are the same team. We can play like this anytime, regardless of if we are at home or on the road.

“We just have to play with heart.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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