- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Maryland basketball players have continued to insist they have a good team in recent weeks, one capable of making the NCAA tournament and turning around a rapidly unraveling season.

Last night’s blowout loss at Dean E. Smith Center was the latest piece of evidence to suggest the exact opposite.

Tyler Hansbrough scored 21 points as No. 21 North Carolina coasted to a 81-57 rout, extending the Terrapins’ road miseries and probably eliminating what little margin of error Maryland had if it is to make an increasingly unlikely run at an NCAA tournament berth.

The Terps (16-11, 6-8 ACC) fell to 3-7 since senior guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible last month and ensured they would not finish with a winning record in league play for the third straight season.

“We’re battling, and that’s all you can do,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “This time of year, you can’t make any trades, you can’t pick up anybody. You have your team. This is what you do. You go play.”

Fans began streaming out of the Dean Dome with more than five minutes left, comfortable in knowing the Tar Heels were assured a season sweep of Maryland.

Realistically, they probably could have headed home at least an hour earlier with the same feeling.

Maryland struggled with its shooting from the start, missing an array of layups and inside shots even struggling teams usually convert. The Terps made one field goal in a span of 9:21 in the first half as the Tar Heels simultaneously stretched their lead from nine to 17.

“There’s no explanation for it,” guard D.J. Strawberry said. “We just have to put the ball in the basket. That’s all there is to it. It’s not like they were blocking a lot of shots.”

And it wasn’t as if the Tar Heels (19-6, 10-4) were terribly efficient offensively. Carolina’s 41.1 shooting percentage was its lowest in a victory since a win over Duke in 2001, and it committed 17 turnovers.

However, the Tar Heels did have Hansbrough, who is well on his way to national freshman of the year honors. He shredded the Terps after struggling for much of the teams’ meeting at Comcast Center earlier this month, finding open looks and working his way to the foul line for the short time there was an inkling of doubt who would win.

Maryland was down 17 at the half but three times closed within 11 before starting to trade baskets with Carolina’s David Noel (12 points). The Tar Heels then ripped off a 15-6 run as the Terps went cold from the field again.

There wasn’t another sustained run in the Terps, who sputtered off Tobacco Road with their worst shooting night (27.9 percent) of the season despite running their offense better than usual.

“Let’s just say the shots go in. It would have been a much better game, it would have been a much closer game and, who knows, we could have come out with a win,” guard Mike Jones said. “But seeing that the shots we normally make didn’t fall tonight, sometimes that happens. You can’t make every shot.”

The Terps have two regular-season games left, the home finale Wednesday against Miami before playing at Virginia on Sunday in the final scheduled game at University Hall. Then comes the ACC tournament, and Maryland currently stands in eighth place.

The Terps probably need three more victories to make a serious case to the NCAA tournament selection committee despite a strength of schedule collegerpi.com ranked 13th entering yesterday.

A 1-7 road record does not help, nor does the reality that both of Maryland’s top-50 wins (Arkansas and Boston College) came before McCray was ineligible, a factor the committee will consider in its selections.

Williams, though, was unbowed by his team’s tenuous situation.

“If I start worrying about those things, I’d go crazy,” Williams said. “Just get ready for the next game. That’s what I’ve always done in every game I’ve ever played, whether I was coaching in high school or the ACC. Just get ready for the next game. What else can you do?”

Added Jones: “We’re going to come back. We’re not going to let this game put us down. We know what we have to do.”

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