As I watched this game, this sequence from the classic movie Bull Durham kept playing in my mind:
Harrison "Black Falcon" Barnes made an early appearance, Tyler Zeller and John Henson ruled the paint, and UNC parlayed a 19-9 run over the last 7:31 of the first half into an 11-point lead at the break, which would also turn out to be the final margin.
Barnes dropped 21 points and Leslie McDonald chipped in 15 to pull the Terps out of an early zone, while Zeller put up 25 points and 6 rebounds on a crisp 10-for-16 shooting, and Henson just missed a triple-double with 10 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots. Kendall Marshall had 10 assists and six rebounds to go with Dexter Strickland's 6 points and 6 assists, as the Tar Heels had an eye-popping 23 assists on 32 made baskets. And yet, Crash Davis' words ring true as there was something just off about Carolina's effort on Sunday night.
Maybe it was giving up 28 points to freshman guard Terrell Stoglin, or giving up 16 points and 19 rebounds to Maryland phenom forward Jordan Williams. Or maybe it was UNC taking a number of ill-advised shots early in the shot clock and only shooting 40 percent for the game while only making 1 out of the last 11 3-point attempts. Or how about the countless missed shots from point blank range, including one sequence in the first half where Carolina had at least 5-6 misses at the rim before finally scoring. And despite only having 11 turnovers, nearly all of them seemed to be bad decisions. Maybe it was the inability to blow the Terps out when given the chance (although big props to Maryland for not giving up and cutting the 18-point lead to seven). Perhaps it was the only one field goal and 10 total points from the starting backcourt, or the fact that Reggie Bullock continues to be mired in a slump I wouldn't wish on anyone not playing for Duke.
I have said frequently that UNC fans are spoiled when it comes to arguing how sloppy a double-digit win over a potential NCAA-tourney team is, but I just can't shake the fact that, as Crash said, in the show, UNC may have been ripped, especially if Maryland could have had a better showing than 2-for-14 from three.
Nevertheless, Carolina wins for the 18th time in its last 21 games and headed into the final week of the regular season is in a first-place tie with Duke at 12-2 in the ACC. I know the Nike t-shirt after Duke's NCAA title last year was "order has been restored", but after UNC's disastrous season last year, to be 22-6, 12-2 in the ACC feels like old times. Plus Maryland has been a particular thorn in the Heels' side of late, so a convincing win is refreshing.
Fox Sports had a telling graphic as to the turnaround in Carolina basketball and why Roy Williams should probably win ACC Coach of the Year: Last year's starting lineup for the Maryland game was Larry Drew II, Marcus Ginyard, Will Graves, Ed Davis, and Deon Thompson. The fact that Roy has in essence replaced his entire starting lineup and has the Heels in contention for an ACC regular-season crown is a testament to the job he has done this season.
There is still a lingering feeling that, despite the gaudy ACC record, that UNC has yet to hit on all cylinders. C. Michael surmised tonight that - particularly when they play like they did tonight - Barnes, Henson, and Zeller may be the best 3-4-5 combination in the country. If the Heels can get consistent play from the other two spots on the floor, who knows what Carolina can do in March?