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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels survive Terps

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Comcast Center security guards were in position, waiting for a surge from the student section. The Maryland students were in position, too, poising themselves to storm the court to celebrate the upset that would have likely secured the Terrapins a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But North Carolina's Sean May was in position as well, sliding to the left block to swat away Mike Jones' potential game-tying shot with three seconds left to preserve a dramatic 85-83 victory for the second-ranked Tar Heels on Sunday.

The win was UNC's second consecutive win without leading scorer Rashad McCants as well as its second straight road win -- giving the Tar Heels a 6-2 road record in the ACC after going 2-6 last year.

"I've always felt that poise and toughness can get you through on the road when the other team's going crazy and the crowd's going crazy you have to be poised enough to do what you practice every day," said UNC coach Roy Williams. "The toughness is something I preach from day one."

For most of the second half, it looked like North Carolina (24-3, 12-2 in the ACC) wouldn't need any last-second heroics to close out the sporadic Terrapins (16-10, 7-8). UNC opened a 10-point lead after a first half that was punctuated by a David Noel dunk just before the buzzer and featured eight ties and eight lead changes.

But Maryland hit seven of eight 3-pointers in the second half, led by Chris McCray -- who scored 25 points after shooting 3-for-17 against UNC in January -- and Jones, who hit four second-half treys.

"They're the number two team in the country, and I want our guys to believe they can play with that, but it takes a lot of work," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "If we play with the intensity we had in the second half, I'm sure we can play with any team in the country, but you have to play for 40 minutes."

After Maryland briefly tied the score at 65, the Tar Heels pulled back ahead by eight, but the Terrapins hit three straight 3-pointers to take a one-point lead.

"We were just talking about it -- last year's team would've gotten rattled," said May, who continued his recent stellar play with 22 points and 11 rebounds. "It was the same thing; we're up 10, now they're up two, and how does that happen? But we never got into that -- we knew we were going to win this game. ... This team was just able to play with some poise."

North Carolina responded with a Jawad Williams 3-pointer off a kick-out by Raymond Felton, who finished with 10 points and 10 assists. Williams had promised his teammates he would make a big shot after missing the front end of a 1-and-1 earlier in the half and an open look a few possessions before his clutch shot.

"Like any player when you shoot the ball, I thought it was going in," said Williams, who contributed 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting. "I made an error earlier in the game, and I kept telling my teammates I was going to make up for it. I guess that was the play."

The Terrapins responded with a tip-in with 41.5 seconds left by Ekene Ibekwe. But Felton countered with his only basket of the second half by knifing through the lane and laying the ball in to put the Tar Heels up two -- setting up May for the block that saved the win and North Carolina's one-game lead on Wake Forest in the ACC standings.

Maryland inbounded the ball to Jones at the top of the key with 6.8 seconds left. Jones then slipped past Jackie Manuel and lofted a floater, but May came over with the help-side defense to swat the ball into the corner.

May, who said he would've been "dead" after playing 31 minutes last year, put himself in position to be the Tar Heels' savior not only with a good read of the play but with his persistent work effort in the offseason.

"I like to say he's about as athletic as a small elephant," said Roy Williams with a smile. "He worked hard. He does have better bounce. He does have quicker reactions. He does have a lower percentage of body fat. But you get these things because you work at it.

"It's no genius coaching. By golly, it's a youngster who's worked his little -- his medium-sized rear end off."

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@unc.edu.

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