The screams —- pleas, really —- emanated from Maryland’s bench throughout Saturday afternoon, just as they have for most of the season.
The Terrapin coaching staff’s ardent wish? For their players to box out and at least make it more difficult for their larger, more physical counterparts from North Carolina.
In one vital possession late in the second half, Maryland couldn’t do it. Not once or twice but three times.
Eventually, the Tar Heels collected a crucial basket. And eventually, the Terps departed with an 83-74 loss before a sellout crowd at Comcast Center.
“They’re pretty talented players, but that was disappointing,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I challenged the guys before the game and said ‘Challenge yourself that every time a shot goes up to box out. How hard is that to do? So if you do it and [a teammate] does it and then we have a chance to win the game.’ Probably would have won the game. But you have to give them credit, too.”
Maryland (13-9) dropped its second straight and arrived at the turn of conference play at 3-5 with consecutive road games.
Terrell Stoglin scored 20 points for the Terps, who led by as many as nine and still held an edge over the Tar Heels with 10 minutes remaining.
Tyler Zeller scored 22 points and John Henson added 17 points and 12 rebounds for North Carolina (20-3, 7-1), which won in College Park for the first time since 2006. Kendall Marshall had a Comcast Center-record 16 assists, breaking the mark set by former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez in 2008 against N.C. State.
For all of Marshall’s dazzling play and the scoring from Carolina’s bigs, Maryland stood up to the Tar Heels nearly all day. Yet in the end, second chances (or, at times, fourth chances) were the Terps’ undoing.
Maryland was within 70-69 when P.J. Hairston put back a Harrison Barnes miss. The next possession, the Tar Heels collected two offensive rebounds and secured possession when a ball went out of bounds before Henson knocked down a jumper to make it 74-69.
From there, the Terps’ immaturity showed, with a missed free throws and quick-trigger shooting zapping any chance of a comeback. But Maryland found itself in that spot because it couldn’t limit the potent Tar Heels to one chance on offense.
“It can’t be emphasized more,” Stoglin said. “Coach talks about it every day. He talks about how we need to be more physical and strong. We talk about it every day. It’s just something we need to work on.”
Thus ended a week of progress that didn’t generate the outcomes the Terps hoped for. Wednesday’s double-overtime loss at Miami infused some belief Maryland was becoming more competitive.
Sure enough, the Terps were on Saturday. It just so happened to come against a conference favorite loaded with future pros.
“I don’t look at 3-5. I really don’t,” Turgeon said. “I’m going to look at the film and see how I can make them better.”
In the end, it’s not complex. Turgeon had two priorities entering Saturday: Limit the damage in transition and box out on offense. Carolina rarely had opportunities on the break, with the Terps dutifully sending three players back rather than allocate more guys to fight on the offensive glass.
The defensive rebounding, though, was another matter for a Maryland team reminded again of the fine line it walks this season.
“It’s really simple,” Turgeon said. “I’ve never had more trouble getting a team to be more physical on box-outs. We’ve worked on it, we talk about it, we work on it every day. Some of it’s going to be their length, but a lot of it’s going to be us just not competing on the glass when we need to compete. If we just could have gotten a couple rebounds in there, it might have been a different outcome.”
—- Patrick Stevens