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Carolina managed to put together one of the best halves of basketball it's played all year before stinking up the joint in the second half and nearly allowing Maryland within striking distance.
Trying to examine ACC teams these days makes a person sound like they're a freshman philosophy major: "Who are the Heels really?" "Which Maryland team is it that we're watching?" "Is this season actually just an elaborate prank being played by a mischievous God who desires to confuse us?"
The answer to that third one, clearly, is yes. But these are the kinds of soul-searching questions we're asking in a world where NC State can look so dominate against top-ranked Duke, then get muscled around by Maryland in a last-second win for the Terps, and then have Mark Turgeon and company come into Chapel Hill and look so utterly incompetent on offense most of the time I would not be surprised at all to learn their powers had been stolen by Monstars. On Maryland's first 6 possessions, they tallied 5 turnovers and 1 missed shot, a trend that would continue all day as the Terps managed to tally 21 turnovers, led by P'Shon Howard's bizarre box score line - 14 minutes, 0 points, 0-0 shooting, 0 assists, 7 turovers. Wow.
I say this before even starting to talk about Carolina because looking at a box score, you might be persuaded to think UNC turned up its defense in holding Maryland to 20 first-half points, but truth is that most of the Terps' mistakes were of the self-inflicted variety - simple passes slipping through their hands, dribbling the ball off their own feet, telegraphing where they were going with the ball. It seemed clear that the UM had left their energy in College Park along with their victory over State.
Carolina, for their part, did have a variety of encouraging signs in the first half - Reggie Bullock came out absolutely on fire, scoring 21 of his game-high 24 before the break and looking assertive in staking the Heels to an early lead. UNC keyed on stopping Alex Len, and whenever he touched the ball on an entry pass it seemed he had multiple Tar Heels sticking hands in to force a steal or a quick pass back outside. James Michael McAdoo looked really strong on both ends of the floor, showing off a nice turnaround jumper against the taller Len and doing a good job of hitting the boards - UNC expanded its lead a variety of times on second-chance opportunities, which they've been doing all season. With a score of 42-20, the halftime margin reflected both how well UNC had played and how poorly Maryland had been prepared.
Then in the second half the roles almost seemed to switch, with Carolina now playing the role of self-saboteur but the Terps ultimately still too hapless to get all the way back into the game. UNC looked totally lost on offense for long stretches in the second half (sound familiar?) and was allowing Dez Wells to drive to the basket untouched again and again in a perfect embodiment of the definition of insanity. As clutch as P.J. Hairston was in the Florida State win, this tweet pretty much embodied his performance against Maryland:
Gotta love how PJ Hairston will launch a heat-check when someone else is hot.— Evan Markfield (@EvanMarkfield) January 19, 2013
Still, Hairston contributed in a variety of other ways down the stretch, grabbing some big rebounds to help ice the win just as Maryland was threatening to pull within single digits. The fact that they got that close at all, though, is a bit of an indictment on this UNC team as they still haven't shown fans anything to think that they've completely turned the season around. It's a team that's fully capable of shooting themselves into huge leads (first half) and then shooting themselves in the foot over and over again (second half). In this case, they were that fortunate Maryland was just as inept.