Another shot at a big win for Maryland, another opportunity passed up. Difference is, this time it's pretty tough to complain about it.
Maryland went toe-to-toe with 5th-ranked North Carolina, playing inspired and disciplined for the first 30 minutes before their own fatigue and the Tar Heels' superior talent and athleticism. Terrell Stoglin's 20 points wasn't enough to overcome a combined 57 points from Tyler Zeller, Jon Henson, and Harrison Barnes, as UNC iced it late 83-74.
Maryland's first half was probably the best twenty minutes they've played all season: they executed almost flawlessly, looked dialed-in, and played with huge effort. They turned the ball over only four times, forced eight UNC turnovers, and shot 80% from the stripe. The end result? A 40-37 lead heading into the half.
The Terrapins had a great start to the second half, jumping out to an early 9-point lead. The referees quickly took hold of the game, with a tighter whistle - that was always going to favor the more athletic and refined North Carolina. The heels cut the lead to just two within minutes. A quick 7-0 run around the 10:00 mark gave Carolina a 59-57 lead, and it's one they didn't relinquish. Maryland kept the game within about three for almost the entire game, but tried to extend the game in the closing minute and the score got a little-out-of-hand. Make no mistake: UNC wasn't 9 points better than Maryland today.
The standout performer of the day had to be Alex Len, who completely changed the game. He got his swagger back today. Len finished with 12 points, 9 boards, 4 blocks, oftentimes going one-on-five on the glass. He was the only one who could neutralize UNC's elite front line, and finished with arguably his best performance of the season. Hopefully this is the Len we see the rest of the year; if it is, Maryland can make some noise in the ACC.
Everyone else more or less came and went. Everyone played spirited all the time, but had spurts of poor play. Stoglin had some mind-bending plays but still shot only 8-21 from the field; Pe'Shon Howard had only two turnovers and made two threes, but also didn't have a single assist; and Nick Faust looked like dynamite driving the ball, but made a series silly plays that really hurt.
I'm on a tight schedule, so I won't go much deeper than that for now. I'll leave with two quick notes. First, the officiating. If you're a long-time follower, you know that I more often than not stick up for the refs. I don't like it when fanbases whine incessantly about officiating, and try to divorce myself from my fandom to assess this. But today ... it was awful. Both ways. They all loved to hear their own whistle, and got caught in a vicious sequence of ticky-tack fouls. Worst of them was a call on Alex Len when he literally didn't touch Jon Henson. (I guess "intimidation" is now illegal.) I said it was bad both ways, and it was, but it hurt Maryland much more; the refs let the game run for the first few minutes, and Maryland capitalized. Their gameplan was built on effort and intensity, and that requires a loose whistle. The refs moved the goalposts mid-way through, and the second half was a bear to watch because of it.
The other note: you have to wonder how much it hurt that Maryland went two overtimes on Wednesday. Most of the starting five went upwards of 40 minutes against Miami, then played the majority of the game today as well. Surely contributed to the late struggles.
I can't fault a thing about Maryland today. Well, I can, but I'll choose not to. It's really tough to fault a team when they nearly beat an obviously superior opponent. The next step for Maryland is now to take what they did tonight and replicate every game for the rest of the year. If they do, they can easily get to 8-8, and then the bubble is still alive. If they regress instead, well, we'll see more of what we've seen.
Exit question: how much do you hate Jon Henson?