CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Something resembling North Carolina’s traditional offense showed up for a half Saturday afternoon.
Whatever constitutes Maryland’s offense of late made a full-game appearance, which wasn't a welcome development for the Terrapins.
And so the Tar Heels encountered little trouble in snagging a 62-52 victory at the Dean Smith Center in the latest unsightly performance from a Maryland offense fortunate to break 50 points these days.
With a 21-turnover salute, the Terps (14-4, 2-3 ACC) fell for the third time in four games since a 13-game winning streak.
“We weren’t very good,” said coach Mark Turgeon, whose program has failed to score 55 points in three straight games for the first time since 1982. “It’s pretty obvious. We threw the ball to them a lot more than sometimes we threw it to us.”
Consider it the latest evolution in the brand of ugly play the Terps have provided over the last two weeks. There was a meltdown against Florida State, a 14-point opening half at Miami and then a 51-50 escape against N.C. State on Wednesday.
It isn’t that Maryland is playing poorly everywhere. Its defense, while not as sharp in the first half, was more than serviceable overall.
The offense … well, it remains offensive for all the wrong reasons. And North Carolina (12-5, 2-2) proved more than capable of taking advantage.
Five of the Terps’ first six possessions ended in a giveaway. They hit one 3-pointer all day. And for the fourth straight game, Maryland didn’t surpass 40 percent shooting.
“The offense is going to get there,” said sophomore wing Dez Wells, who scored 21 points. “We have good players and we’re going to make shots. As long as out execution is good, that’s what coach cares about.”
If only it was so simple. Missed shots happen, and sometimes there are dry spells. There is a difference between good offense with lousy luck on open looks and an inability to even set up those opportunities.
When the three primary ball-handlers (Seth Allen, Nick Faust and Pe’Shon Howard) combine for one assist and 11 turnovers, there is an anvil of a hint at deeper issues. Howard had seven turnovers, tying for the most by an ACC player in one game this season, in just 14 minutes.
Nothing illustrated matters as well as Carolina bolting to an 8-0 lead, an advantage that reached double-digits for good less than six minutes in. While Reggie Bullock (21 of his career-high 24 points in the first half) single-handedly outscored the Terps for more than 22 minutes, Maryland was fortunate to make it out of a trip downcourt without a giveaway.
“It felt like we were another team because that’s not Maryland basketball, trying to force passes, force shots, force a lot of things we really don’t force in the past few games,” forward Charles Mitchell said. “We just have to slow down and think before we make any decisions.”
While slowing down is of debatable value (though it might permit Maryland to finally reduce its turnovers), North Carolina wasn’t about to let it happen. And though it wasn’t a vintage Tar Heel performance, it looked far more like the successful program built on applying significant pressure and gleefully pushing the tempo.
At least for 20 minutes, anyway, which was more than enough for coach Roy Williams.
“It was pretty in the first half,” Williams said. “I don’t mind telling you. It was pretty. It looked like North Carolina basketball. … I’m giving myself a pep talk. I want to focus on the dadgum first half.”
For its part, Maryland would rather not focus on any part of its first trek to Tobacco Road this season. Yet it serves as another reminder the Terps probably are not a finished product, what with the several talented and inconsistent pieces in their rotation.
And if this is who Maryland really is, particularly with their scoring? On this particular day, Turgeon preferred to take the long view, of viewing the loss through the prism of a tough opponent rather than continued offensive struggles.
“It’s a long season,” Turgeon said. “It’s such a long season, you’re going to have ups and downs shooting the ball. We have good shooters missing right now. When it’s hard to get a good look, you rush it. You rush it, you usually don’t make it. They were good defensively. That’s a good team with a lot of really good players. I think they’re growing up. They’re good, especially in this building. Today they were great.”
Maryland, most definitely, was not.
--- Patrick Stevens