Roy Williams laughs at the notion that he purposely planned to have North Carolina playing its best basketball at the end of the season.
"I don't know how to make my team peak and neither does anybody else," Williams said with a knowing grin after the Tar Heels coasted past Maryland 79-68 Wednesday night. "I'm not smarter than the other guy. If I knew how to make my team peak, then so would they."
Maybe so, but the Tar Heels have won a season-high six straight as they prepare to face Duke on Saturday night before heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
"They really have come a long way," Williams said.
Yes, after losing their first two ACC games, the Tar Heels have bounced back in impressive fashion. They've clinched a first-round bye in the ACC tournament and could climb into a tie for second place with a victory against Duke.
"They should feel very good about what they've done, and hopefully they have a lot of games to play," Williams said.
P.J. Hairston scored 22, Reggie Bullock had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and North Carolina (22-8, 12-5) never trailed after closing the first half with a 10-0 run to go up 34-27.
The Tar Heels have won six in a row against Maryland, including the ACC tournament last year.
"I'm really proud of them," Williams said. "I've brought some really good teams in here. We won a national championship in '09 but we didn't win here. I really liked the way our kids competed."
Much has been said about North Carolina's small lineup, but in this game, the 6-foot-7 Bullock and 6-5 Hairston were the difference.
"We're having fun out there with the small lineup," Bullock said. "Having P.J. in the lineup, he's like my brother. He puts a smile on my face, and we feed off each other."
The victory enabled North Carolina to solidify its hold on third place in the ACC, ahead of North Carolina State and Virginia.
"We're getting better every game," Bullock insisted. "Everybody is sharing the ball up front, and we're talking on defense. We just have to keep doing that."
James Michael McAdoo scored 10 for the Tar Heels, who went 10 for 24 from beyond the arc and outscored the Terrapins 19-11 at the foul line. North Carolina hasn't lost since Feb. 13 at Duke and has won 12 of 15 in the ACC.
Dez Wells led Maryland (20-10, 8-9) with 18 points and Nick Faust had 16. The Terrapins missed 20 of 23 attempts from 3-point range.
"I'm disappointed," coach Mark Turgeon said. "I liked the energy we started the game with. That said, we couldn't make a shot. Had some really good looks, especially early."
Following a ceremony honoring Maryland seniors James Padgett and Logan Aronhalt before their final home game, the sellout crowd watched the Tar Heels make five of their first six shots — one basket by each starter — in taking a 12-4 lead.
Faust then scored five points in a 10-1 run that put Maryland in front for the first time.
After North Carolina peeled off seven straight points, the Terrapins did the same. Two straight layups by Faust put Maryland ahead 27-24 with 3:24 left in the half, but the Tar Heels closed with a 10-point blitz run that included 3-pointers by Hairston and Paige.
In the second half, North Carolina led 36-29 before Bullock drilled a 3-pointer to launch a 13-4 run that made it 49-33 with 12:47 remaining. Hairston and Bullock combined to score all of the Tar Heels' first 15 points in the second half.
After Maryland closed to 51-42, Hairston made a layup and Bullock drilled a jumper from beyond the arc for a 12-point cushion with 9:31 to go. It was 61-46 before the Terrapins used a 9-2 spurt to get to 63-57, but a 3-pointer by Marcus Paige and a three-point play by McAdoo short-circuited the comeback.
"It's easy to come back," Turgeon said. "But to come back and win is different."
Maryland failed to get an important win in its bid to reach the NCAA tournament and fell to 16-3 at home.
"I wanted to be better tonight and we weren't," Turgeon said. "Carolina had to be good, and they were really good — especially Bullock."
Wells said, "We picked it up in the second half but we didn't get the key stops when we needed it."