- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

The scene wasn't exactly Carolina blue yesterday, either outside or inside Comcast Center.
Maryland's basketball team has lost 101 games to North Carolina over 80 years of combat, and it looked for a while like the Terrapins were bent on evening accounts in one afternoon.
The Terps' surreal 96-56 giggler was the biggest ACC defeat ever for the Tar Heels. A sophomore guard named Melvin Scott showed he can make the clutch shot by hitting a 3-pointer with one second left that enabled North Carolina to avoid tying the school record for the worst overall loss a 63-20 stinker to the Lynchburg Elks, of all people, in 1915.
Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty opened his postgame news conference by noting, "Obviously, I'm disappointed with the outcome." If nothing else, give the beleaguered Doherty credit for being a master of understatement.
Although Maryland partisans in the crowd of 17,950 probably didn't feel it, Doherty's third team deserves our pity which in itself indicates just how far the proud Tar Heels have fallen. If legendary coach Dean Smith was watching the slaughter on TV, he might have been tempted to tune in another channel any other channel.
Over 36 seasons, Smith's teams had a winning percentage of .776 to go along with 17 seasons in which they were alone or tied atop the ACC regular season standings, 13 ACC tournament titles, 11 visits to the Final Four and three NCAA titles.
Successor Bill Guthridge had a winning percentage of .741, one ACC tournament championship and two Final Fours in his three seasons. By contrast, Doherty's record is 48-39, or .552, which is no way to remain employed along Tobacco Road. He started impressively two years ago, finishing 26-7 with Guthridge's players, then directed last season's free fall that produced an 8-20 disaster.
As always, there are mitigating factors why this season has been nearly as disappointing. The Tar Heels have the nation's youngest team, according to one survey, with no juniors and two seniors. And their best big man, freshman center Sean May, went down with a broken leg in late December and hasn't even returned to practice.
Nonetheless, the basketball citizenry is getting restless in Chapel Hill, where anything less than a Final Four season is considered a failure. The Tar Heels appear to be losing ground in their everlasting struggles with Duke and N.C. State for blue-chippers in the Triangle area and elsewhere. Doherty, himself a member of North Carolina's 1982 NCAA champions, has two more years remaining on a five-year contract, and the grumbles may turn into growls if sharp improvement is not detected. As it is, the 14-12 current imposters are a solid bet to stay home when March Madness descends.
These Tar Heels can run, shoot, rebound and play defense they just don't do any of them very well. They hit just 21 of 64 shots from the floor, a 32.8 percent pace that might have turned Doherty's hair white if it weren't already. This included 7-for-31 in 3-pointers, a substantial number of them air balls. And their imprecise offense turned over the ball 20 times, which must have made former star point guard Phil Ford now a radio analyst on North Carolina broadcasts want to gag.
Somehow, though, the Tar Heels trailed by only 47-40 nearly three minutes into the second half before the Terps apparently remembered who they were and who they were playing. Senior point guard Steve Blake, who has said he wants to be Maryland's main man on offense, hit a 3-pointer, then stole the ball and hit the first of his two jump shots all in a span of 1:19. That made it 54-42, and when Jamar Smith added a couple of baskets, all that remained was to see how extensive the carnage would become.
Maryland now has flattened the Tar Heels twice by a total of 58 points, which might suggest that the Terps are becoming as potent as last season's champions. Really, though, all it indicates is how pathetic North Carolina has become.
It's all a far cry from the drama that attended every Maryland-North Carolina game when Smith and Lefty Driesell matched wits at least twice a year from 1969 to 1986. If the recently retired Lefty was watching yesterday, he must have been astounded that a Tar Heels team could play the way this one does.
Afterward, the remarkably calm Doherty insisted that he wasn't embarrassed and had not yelled at his tattered troops in the locker room. Instead, he said he told them, "We have to battle and stick together."
Guess what? They're stuck together.


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