ESPN — North Carolina and Duke will participate in one of sport’s most cherished rivalries on Wednesday night, but the Tar Heels faced one remaining obstacle on Saturday afternoon, shrugging off a ragtag offensive performance to fell Maryland 83-74.
The Terrapins have handed the Heels disappointment and devastation in the past decade, particularly in College Park. The national champion 2009 Tar Heels weren’t able to defeat Maryland there (admittedly, a better version), and thus this year’s Heels definitely accomplished something meaningful prior to Duke.
Carolina again struggled to find the mark offensively. The Heels shot 44 percent for the game, finally raising their percentage down the stretch after absorbing the Terps’ haymakers all day. Tyler Zeller is beginning to separate himself from everyone else on the club, piling up another 22 points (7-for-12 field goals), seven rebounds and two blocks.
Kendall Marshall played horribly early but regained his poise and in the decisive minutes delivered beautiful passes to maximize each UNC possession. He tallied a monstrous 16 assists, and most of his six turnovers occurred early.
John Henson didn’t earn himself any fans by dunking the ball in the closing seconds, but he deserves credit for continuing to work hard against aggressive Maryland defense. He contributed 17 points and 12 rebounds in 36 grueling minutes.
In fact, Roy Williams essentially voted no confidence in his bench. Marshall played 38 minutes while Harrison Barnes logged 35 and Reggie Bullock 34. Carolina’s once-impressive depth has been worn to the nub due to season-ending injuries suffered by Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland.
Barnes’ sprained ankle also has begun to toll ominously. He twisted it against Wake Forest and aggravated the injury against the Terps — how healthy will he be when the Devils stroll into the Smith Center? After the game he compared the pain to getting shot, obviously not a promising sign going forward.
If you’re looking for one reason why Carolina has won three of its four ACC road games, rebounding may be the primary factor (well, that, and the conference stinks this year). UNC continues to earn more possessions than its opponents due to its work on the glass, and individually Zeller’s improvement and Reggie Bullock’s increased role have paid off handsomely.
If these Heels can’t shoot effectively, at least they can create a larger window for themselves. They out-rebounded Maryland 46-39 and ended up attempting nine more field goals, besting the Terps 18-12 in second chance points.
Carolina improved its record to 20-3 overall and 7-1 in the conference. The Heels haven’t played like a national favorite this season but certainly have made strides. Realistically, they’ll need to defeat Duke at home to maintain a frontrunner to win the ACC outright as well as to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Click here to view the UNC/Maryland box score.