For a half, coach Roy Williams couldn’t have asked for more from his up-and-down North Carolina team.
Bullock scored 21 of his career-high 24 points in the first half, helping the Tar Heels build a huge lead on the way to beating the Terrapins 62-52 on Saturday.
James Michael McAdoo added 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who led by 22 points at the break after probably their best half of the season. That lead never dipped below double figures, though his team didn’t play with that same edge after halftime.
“Right now I’m about as ticked off about the second half as you can be,” Williams said, “and I’m going to enjoy the first half.”
Bullock scored the game’s first eight points and outscored Maryland 21-20 through the opening 20 minutes, then set his career high with a straightaway 3-pointer with 5:45 left for his only second-half basket.
“My teammates were just getting me open,” Bullock said. “They were setting great screens for me and I was just feeling it. I was just being able to go through my regular routines of shooting the ball.”
The Terrapins (14-4, 2-3) never fully recovered from that first half, from Bullock’s flurry to their own bumbling with the basketball. Maryland finished with 21 turnovers, 15 coming in the first half to help the Tar Heels speed out in front.
The Terrapins played better after the break but didn’t make enough plays to seriously pressure the Tar Heels. Maryland finished the game shooting 39.6 percent (21 of 53) but missed 11 of 12 3-pointers for a disappointing follow-up to Wednesday night’s upset of North Carolina State on Alex Len’s last-second basket.
“I thought we were going to play great. I really did,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “But you’ve got to give them credit. They were so good out of the chute, and we didn’t respond to it. We weren’t mature enough to respond to the way they came out and played and made shots and pressured, and it kind of steamrolled.”
Bullock and McAdoo combined for 43 points on 15-for-31 shooting. The rest of the team combined to shoot 8-for-34 (23.5 percent), coincidentally the same as the Tar Heels managed in their flat second-half performance.
“They’re our go-to guys, they’re our leaders,” freshman point guard Marcus Paige said of Bullock and McAdoo. “To have them come out and play that well early and set the tone for us, we can relax and just play our games a bit instead of just trying to force things. Then our offense runs smoother as well.”
Bullock quickly turned the game into his own show. The 6-foot-7 junior buried a 3-pointer on the game’s opening sequence, followed with a transition layup, then added another 3 on the next possession. Bullock knocked down another shot from behind the arc in the half and six free throws, with the last three coming when he was fouled on a 3-point attempt.
“Bananas,” McAdoo said of Bullock’s first half. “The crowd’s like, ‘Go for 40!’ That’s what I kept telling him: ‘Drop 40 in, Reg.’ He just looked great. And none of it was selfish. All of it was in our system, and that’s Carolina basketball.”
While Bullock was rolling, the Terrapins were sputtering.
The Tar Heels repeatedly had their guards come down to slap at the ball when Len tried to move in the post, while the Terps kept throwing the ball away on the perimeter. Maryland gave the ball away near midcourt in the final seconds of the half to give Dexter Strickland an uncontested dunk, capping a 9-0 UNC run that gave the Tar Heels a 42-20 lead at the break.
“The last three minutes, we were just as bad as can be,” Turgeon said.
North Carolina scored 14 points off turnovers in the first half, though none after halftime as the Terps did a better job protecting the ball.
“We just need to slow down and make smarter decisions,” said Charles Mitchell, who had 11 rebounds. “We were trying to run with the tempo of another team.”
The 62 points were the lowest by UNC in a win against Maryland since February 1985, while Maryland’s 52 points marked its lowest total in the series since January 1982.
The Tar Heels played their third straight without junior guard Leslie McDonald due to a knee injury.
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