The snowstorm wasn't the only thing to disappoint in the D.C. area on Wednesday night. Maryland's much-ballyhooed Senior Night showdown with North Carolina proved to be something of a bust itself: the Terps were largely overmatched by a gelling, increasingly-cohesive UNC, with the Tar Heels winning fairly comfortably at the end of the day, 79-68.
There isn't much to say other than that Maryland, as expected, just doesn't have the quality throughout their team that UNC does. The teams aren't miles apart, but the Terps lacked three big things that Carolina had in abundance, and the differences were both clear and decisive. Maryland, as they have all year, lacks ballhandlers and shooters, and their 14 turnovers and atrocious 3-23 shooting from three spoke to both of those deficiencies. The Heels were in stark contrast, rarely turning the ball over except when pressed and shooting an efficient 10-24 from beyond the arc.
But the biggest difference wasn't anything systemic: simply, Carolina has truly elite talent, and Maryland doesn't. P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock combined for 41 points and were spectacular for the Heels, breaking down Maryland's defense at will and consistently hitting good looks from the perimeter. Dominant players can bail out teams, and the Terps don't have anyone approaching the level of Hairston, Bullock, or James Michael McAdoo. So when the Heels started on their run late in the first half, there was no one there to kill it for the Terps.
In short, if you don't execute consistently (and Maryland doesn't) and you don't have elite talent (and Maryland doesn't), it's really tough to win against teams who do on both counts. Tonight, that was UNC.
It was actually a fairly entertaining, competitive first half, with UNC leading most of the way but with Maryland making plenty of runs of their own and forcing plenty of lead changes. They actually led by three as the first half wound down, with Nick Faust and James Padgett both playing well and the Terps pounding the ball inside consistently, which UNC seemed to struggle with. But the Heels went on a 10-0 run before the break to take a critical seven-point advantage into the break, leading 34-27.
That run continued right through into the second half, with Carolina stretching it to 20-4 by the under-16. The Terps trailed by 13 at that point, unable to do anything on offense and struggling to contain UNC on the other end. Things stabilized at that point - the lead would never get farther than 17, and aside from that 20-4 stretch of about eight minutes, Maryland played UNC pretty even. The Terps even got back in the game using the press, with Jake Layman causing serious problems at the tip of the 1-2-1 diamond and eventually getting the lead down to as low as 6. Marcus Paige answered with an NBA-range three-pointer, though, and McAdoo followed that up with another bucket shortly after, and just like that it was back to double-digits. Maryland would never seriously challenge again.
The Paige three-pointer largely summed up the game; Maryland had made a run, was playing well, and even defended fairly well on that possession. But Paige got lost and drained a long three late in the shot clock; Maryland was culpable for letting him get that far open, without a doubt, but at the same time when the other side has guys - and not even their best shooters - who can hit from that far out, well, it doesn't make things easy. There was a pretty big gulf in class out there tonight, one that should shrink with time but that is all too prominent right now.
The Terrapins didn't play poorly, though some will say otherwise; they couldn't shoot, their defending was suspect at times, and they turned the ball over too often, but that's what this team is. Maryland played to Maryland, and UNC played to UNC. The difference was about 10 points, and that was fair. It's another game where you could say "if Maryland shot only average from three, they'd have won," but it's hardly the first time we've said as much, and it's happened enough that saying it is virtually meaningless. Maryland doesn't shoot well and they turn the ball over; those are going to be problems no matter what, and it means to win tough games they'll have to do the other things spectacularly well. They did them well, but not spectacularly well, and that's why it's tough for me to find too much fault with either the result or the performance.
It does make things tougher for the NCAA Tournament, if you're still considering it a possibility. This wasn't a must-win, but it turns the Virginia game into a must-win, especially because that might knock the Hoos off the bubble, too. But to have any hope at all they'll need to win that one and then get another two in the ACC Tournament, and it could be that they need the third in the tourney as well. Maryland's a good team, but they have no big out of conference wins and they'll be at best .500 in a weak ACC. That's not auto-bid material.
Anyway, that's probably clear by now. For now, this was just another mildly disappointing, frustrating loss in a season full of them. The refrain remains the same: that's just who Maryland is this year, and no amount of wailing will change it. People hate hearing it, but it's as true today as the first time it was said this year: with any luck, things won't be so grim in a year's time. That's about the only recourse available to you, after all.