Harrison Barnes reacts as his team defeats the Maryland Terrapins 87-76 at the Dean E. Smith Center.
I've given it a fair amount of thought, and despite there being a fair number of flaws in UNC's play tonight, I think this the most complete game the Tar Heels have put together since before Duke. Carolina came out strong – Harrison Barnes scored nine of the Heels' first eleven points – and although Maryland tied it at 13-13, and again cut the lead to two at 25-23, UNC went into the half up 43-31. At that point, Maryland's perimeter shooting was nonexistent, and the only thing they had going for them were Terrell Stoglin's 13 points and Jordan Williams 10 plus 15 rebounds.
Which is what made the second half so key. A lot of teams have come out of the locker room this year with a better grasp on how to stop the Heels, but this time it was UNC who found an answer of Jordan Williams. He only had six points and four rebounds in the second half. Without the production inside, there was only so much Stoglin could do on his own. He'd finish with 28 points, but Carolina's lead would be as large as 17 and never fall below eight for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, UNC was beating Maryland's press with ease, getting transition baskets and generally playing at the tempo they liked. Barnes would finish with 21, and when the Heels were forced into a halfcourt offense, Tyler Zeller was unstoppable, scoring 25.
But it was Leslie McDonald who gave Carolina an outside presence tonight. With starters Marshall and Strickland scoreless for most of the game, McDonald came in off the bench and went off, finishing with 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting, and draining three three pointers. This got the Terps out of the zone that has given UNC fits this season, and made it that much easier for UNC to score. Which, to be frank, they needed, because the team missed a distressing number of layups tonight, but that's a small flaw. Also worth mentioning is John Henson's double-double of 10 points and 15 rebounds paired with seven blocks, often from the perimeter, completely befuddling Maryland's outside shooting.
This is just what you want to see from this team at this stage. Maybe not a perfect game, but a solid performance against a decent team, the beginning of a tough three game stretch to end the season. This is a team that could peak at just the right time, and find themselves atop of the ACC yet. A remarkable feat, given where this team was a few months ago.