The University of North Carolina hosted the University of Maryland at the Smith Center Wednesday night for a celebration of the leap year and senior night. In a day when not many elite college basketball players stick around for four years, it was only fitting that Senior Tyler Zeller of North Carolina played his best game of the season to lead North Carolina to an 88-64 trouncing that had the Maryland big men playing on their heels all night.
In a must win game to set up a regular season championship finale with Duke, the Tar Heels got out to an early lead on the Terps and never looked back. Carolina went inside early and often on the Terps, getting easy buckets and points at the foul line to overshadow an otherwise poor offensive performance by the Carolina perimeter players early. Zeller, starting the game alongside the other Carolina seniors (all walk-ons), took the game into his hands from the onset, establishing himself in the post and getting to the free-throw line. University of Maryland freshmen center Alex Len looked outmatched physically at times and got into early foul trouble. Zeller was not alone in the post in the first half. Once the required floor time was doled out to the seniors, the Carolina starters checked into the game at the 17:55 mark. Introduce John Henson. Upon entering the game, Henson played puppeteer with the Terrapin big men in a show that would make certain Maryland alum proud; using his left and right hand in an array of offensive and defensive moves. The two Carolina big men paced the Tar Heels in the first half, Zeller scoring 15 points and Henson 10, for 25 of the teams 36 first half points and an underwhelming 36-25 lead.
Maryland held the game close in the first half behind the stellar play of freshman guard Nick Faust. Playing with more confidence lately, Faust scored 7 of Maryland’s first 9 points, as the usual scoring sensation and ACC leading scorer, Terrapin guard Terrell Stoglin, struggled throughout the game, scoring his first bucket 11 minutes into the game and finishing with 10 points in the half. Both teams struggled shooting from outside in the first half, Maryland hitting on 3 of 10 first half three-point attempts and UNC making only 1 of 7 first half threes, their first and only of the half coming at the 1:28 mark. Carolina built its early lead at the foul line, going 9-13 in the half compared to Maryland’s 2-6, and off turnovers, forcing 11 in the first half and 17 on the game.
The second half started well for the Terps, going on a 5-0 run in the first 45 seconds to bring the game within 6, but Zeller and Henson were too much inside for the Terps young frontline. Terrapin forward Ashton Pankey fouled out of the game at 10:23 leaving the Terps even weaker up front. Zeller took full advantage of the inexperience, eventually fouling out Alex Len as well on his way to 30 points and 8 rebounds, 20 of his points coming from the free throw line. Henson finished the game with 19 points and 9 rebounds and both played stellar defensively combining for six blocked shots, four steals, and countless shot alterations. The low post game began to open up shots for the outside shooters and the Tar Heels pulled away mid way through the second half, sinking four threes in the second half. A big three point basket by Carolina guard Kendall Marshall, bringing an otherwise lifeless crowd into the game. The three was followed shortly after by a Terrapin Coach Mark Turgeon technical foul pushing the lead to 58-42 at the 10:46. Four consecutive Maryland turnovers later, UNC brought the lead to 65-42, pretty much ending the Terrapins chance at an upset. Carolina scored their 88th and final point on a final second three pointer by walk-on senior David Dupont, reminding Terps fans of the previous encounter between the two squads. The 83-74 North Carolina win came on a last second dunk with the game essentially over. Two games that will not sit well with the Terrapins and hopefully add some motivation to the young group when they encounter the Tar Heels next season.
The lack of a true point guard really hurt Maryland as the turnovers by Maryland guards led to many fast break opportunities for the Heels. Without sophomore point guard Pe’Shon Howard, freshman shooting guard Nick Faust has taken the role, playing well at times but occasionally mishandling the ball under pressure. As a true freshman playing out of position this is expected, and his 4 turnovers, most in the second half, showed his inexperience. He did however finish the game with 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists. He had the opportunity for more assists, but the Carolina big men did a good job making shots difficult around the basket, particularly for Stoglin off the penetration. At times when Stoglin should have been looking to kick the ball out for a three point shot, he would look for contact on his shot but was not rewarded, only shooting six free throws. Stoglin finished the game for the Terrapins with just 16 points on 4-18 shooting and 2-8 from three point range, percentages that will need to improve if Maryland wants to compete in the ACC tournament. Maryland Junior Power Forward James Padgett played well scoring 13 points and grabbing 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Kendall Marshall had 8 assists and All-ACC performer Harrison Barnes had a slow night, contributing 10 points for the Tar Heels in the win. Carolina will square off against Duke Saturday for a shot at the ACC regular season title. Maryland will finish their regular season Sunday, hosting the University of Virginia. HEY JERSEY TERP, JUST EDITED THIS AT 12:08 PM EASTERN STANDARD TIME, in response to being called a liar.