3:30 PM ET, February 15, 2004
Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- For a half, North Carolina (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) overpowered Maryland on the boards, got to the free throw line at will and ran freely on the break to take a 20-point lead.In the second half, the Tar Heels came out flat, turned the ball over and watched their lead shrink to three points.Rashad McCants hit two 3-pointers late and scored 25 points to help the Tar Heels hold on for a 97-86 win Sunday, but it was another shaky moment in an up-and-down season."The consistency with which we're playing is mindboggling," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.Jawad Williams had 23 points and eight rebounds for the Tar Heels (15-7, 5-6 Atlantic Coast Conference), while Sean May and Jackie Manuel each scored 14 points and Melvin Scott added 13.North Carolina's 55 percent shooting was a season-high in ACC play. The Tar Heels had a 50-32 edge in rebounding and hit 36 of 50 free throws in a game marked by 55 personal fouls and 80 free throws.But the Tar Heels committed 12 of their season-high 22 turnovers in the second half as the Terrapins (13-8, 4-6) fought to get back into the game. In addition, sophomore Raymond Felton -- the ACC preseason player of the year -- went 0-for-4 from the field with three points, six assists and seven turnovers.In the end, McCants' two late 3s -- one banked in as the shot clock expired -- allowed the Tar Heels to avoid repeats of earlier failures.Last month, North Carolina blew a 24-point lead in an overtime loss at Florida State. The Tar Heels were also unable to hold second-half leads in losses to No. 1 Duke and Kentucky."It seems like we still have a lot to change," said McCants, who reached the 25-point mark for the seventh time in nine games. "We have 20-point leads and we just break down so badly. It is so unfortunate, but we still stuck it out and won the game."It was a needed win for the Tar Heels, who are in the middle of a muddled ACC race. North Carolina hosts Florida State on Saturday, then plays three of its final four games on the road. That stretch includes trips to Duke and North Carolina State."If we want to be where we want to be in the end -- that's playing in March in the tournament -- we've got to win," said May, who had 12 rebounds. "We almost let another one slip away, but we can't worry about it. We got a win out of it."Chris McCray scored 16 points for the Terrapins, who had won five of the last six meetings, while Jamar Smith added 14.The Tar Heels turned in one of their best performances of the season in the first half. They aggressively attacked the basket, got to the free throw line and scored in transition, romping to a 55-35 lead.Maryland shot 30 percent and was outrebounded 30-16 in the first half, leading coach Gary Williams to lecture his team in the locker room."It was a one-way conversation about how we represent a great program that won a national championship and has been to a Final Four," Williams said. "All those things came up and the fact that it's not right what went on out there the first half. We can play better than that."Maryland played with more intensity in the second half, getting several baskets off turnovers and using a 15-4 run to get back in the game."The second half we had our backs against the wall," Smith said. "And we just had to come out and play with fire or else it would have looked even worse."Ekene Ibekwe had two slams off turnovers during the run, which ended with Smith's 3-pointer that made it 72-66 with 10:11 to play. The Terrapins eventually closed the gap to 82-79 on a straightaway 3 by John Gilchrist with 4:52 to play.But North Carolina answered with a five-point burst. McCants' 3 bounced around the rim and dropped through on the next play, then Scott followed with a fastbreak layup for an 87-79 lead with 3:55 to play.The Tar Heels also needed a bit of good fortune.With the Tar Heels holding a six-point lead, Felton tried to find Williams inside, but the pass was tipped by a defender. McCants picked up the ball behind the arc on the right side and chucked it at the rim with 2 seconds left on the shot clock.The ball banked through for a 92-83 lead with 2:01 left, forcing Gary Williams to wave his hands in disgust.