- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2009

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. | A massive offensive deficiency marred Maryland’s first visit to a Tobacco Road titan this season.

The second time around, it was struggles at the defensive end that doomed the Terrapins to another loss - and it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune venue.

Hammered in transition and on the perimeter, Maryland stumbled to a 108-91 loss to No. 3 North Carolina in a game unlike any other in the Terps’ season.

It wasn’t long ago that Maryland (14-8, 3-5 ACC) routinely relied on its defense to keep it closer to bigger, more talented foes. Yet against the Tar Heels (20-2, 6-2), the Terps’ strength was simply nonexistent.

“Our defense wasn’t ready to play,” coach Gary Williams said. “Against a team like Carolina, if you give them any inkling at all you’re not ready to play, they’re really good at taking advantage of that situation. They seize the opportunity and just go at you. We played a bad first half defensively, and it cost us. We scored, but we couldn’t stop them.”

Sean Mosley scored 19 points and Cliff Tucker added 18 points off the bench for Maryland, which shot 55.6 percent in the first half - yet still trailed by 16 points.

North Carolina made 16 3-pointers in the victory, its first in three seasons against Maryland. Wayne Ellington scored 34 points for the Tar Heels, while Tyler Hansbrough had 24.

Hansbrough seriously concerned the vertically challenged Terps, who did everything possible to prevent the defending national player of the year from eviscerating them inside. But Ellington, Danny Green and Ty Lawson took turns scorching Maryland from the perimeter, and many of their shots were tried with a galling lack of resistance.

“Our defense wasn’t there, and they made us pay,” guard Greivis Vasquez said. “As soon as they made three or four 3s in a row, that was basically the game. We were so worried about Tyler Hansbrough we gave shots away. We let them shoot the ball. Ellington got going, and [Lawson] got going. We lost, and we’ll take it as a team.”

The setback was hardly a stunning development for Maryland, but it was not nearly as bad as the Terps’ 85-44 loss at Duke on Jan. 24, a blowout that set a standard of misery that will follow the team for at least the rest of the season. But on a freewheeling night during which the Tar Heels also adopted a defense-optional philosophy, it still didn’t work out well for Maryland.

The Terps found themselves trading two-pointers for 3-pointers by the middle of the first half, and that was hardly a sound strategy. Carolina established its first 20-point lead with 4:27 left before the break, but the Terps managed to produce a surge or two later in the game.

Still, it didn’t matter whether the Terps tried man-to-man, zone or a sprint through several timeouts; the Tar Heels’ unrelenting offense continued to generate easy scoring opportunities deep into the second half.

“I was hoping I could get them out of it early with timeouts, but we never did,” Williams said. “They never snapped out of it.”

Then again, the Terps didn’t slow down, either. Tucker’s impressive night - just three days after he complained about a lack of playing time after remaining on the bench for Saturday’s defeat of Miami - coincided with an up-tempo setting that is usually to his liking.

Maryland wound up with its highest scoring outing in 71 games; it was the Terps’ most points since the last time they yielded 100, a 103-91 loss at Virginia in 2007.

“I thought our offense was fine,” Williams said. “We weren’t aggressive defensively, and that really cost us.”

It also deprived anyone of much drama in the final minutes. More than eight minutes remained when fans gleefully anticipated the free biscuits they would receive from a local restaurant chain when the Tar Heels approached the 100-point plateau. That moment came about three minutes later.

From there, the only lingering question was whether the Tar Heels could top the 114 points Maryland surrendered to Duke in 1990 and N.C. State in 1991. It didn’t happen, but that didn’t make things any easier to handle.

“I can just state the obvious and tell you we weren’t able to find our man in,” forward transition Landon Milbourne said. “They push the ball pretty well. That’s a team that’s known for that, and we didn’t realize that until it was too late.”


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