UNC prepares for fan frenzy in Maryland

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 5, 2013 

— When North Carolina last traveled to Maryland’s Comcast Center, a person sitting in the Maryland student section screamed a profanity during the national anthem. Perhaps if the arena hadn’t been so silent, the word wouldn’t have been so audible. But it was.

The story of that moment hasn’t made its way to Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels’ freshman point guard. But Paige has been told a thing or two about what it’s like to play at Maryland – how tough the fans can be, and how loud they can be when the Terrapins most need to make an opposing team uncomfortable.

“I just heard they have one of the craziest student sections in the country,” Paige said on Tuesday. “I’m excited.”

That’s one way to put it. The Comcast Center is likely to be at its frenzied best – or perhaps worst, depending on perspective – when the Heels visit Wednesday night. For one, the Terrapins will be celebrating senior night. Second, they’re likely to enter with a sense of desperation since they own an NCAA tournament resume that needs a boost.

When Maryland beat Duke on Feb. 16, its NCAA tournament hopes seemed secure. The Terrapins had a favorable schedule in front of them, with winnable road games at Boston College and Georgia Tech. But Maryland lost both of those, which is part of the reason why its game against UNC has taken on added importance.

There are no shortage of NCAA tournament projections these days. But it’s difficult to find one that includes Maryland, which enters Wednesday night’s game ranked 69th in the RPI.

“(We) try not to think about where we are just because people think we’re on the bubble,” Mark Turgeon, the Maryland coach, said earlier this week. “We might not be. You don’t know what the committee’s thinking, where they have us … We put ourselves behind the eight ball, lost a few games we shouldn’t have lost maybe on paper.

“We did, so we are where we are.”

The Tar Heels’ season finale at home against Duke looms, but UNC coach Roy Williams and his players have refused, at least publicly, to entertain thoughts about that game. The focus is on Maryland.

UNC played one of its best halves of the season during its 62-52 victory against the Terrapins on Jan. 19. But by the end of that game, the Tar Heels’ 42-20 half was a distant memory for Williams, who focused more on his team’s poor play in the second half.

Since then, Williams has dramatically altered his team’s style of play. The Tar Heels have won five of six games – and five consecutive, which is their longest winning streak of the season – since Williams began using a four-guard starting lineup.

That lineup is likely to leave UNC vulnerable against Maryland’s formidable front line, which is led by the 7-foot-1 center Alex Len.

“Yeah, they have a big front line and that’s going to be a struggle for us, I think, because of our small lineup,” Dexter Strickland, UNC’s senior guard, said on Tuesday. “But I don’t think it will be that big of a struggle, because we like to run. And I don’t think they like to run as (much) as we do.”

Since going small, Williams has wanted UNC’s rebounding to improve. The Heels’ lack of rebounding during the second half of a victory last week at Clemson had Williams furious, and his team responded better in its victory against Florida State on Sunday.

Maryland could offer UNC’s small lineup with its most difficult test since that lineup debuted in a loss at Duke on Feb. 13. The Terrapins are big and imposing up front. And for a game they have to have, they’re likely to be desperate, too.

“We’re aware of it,” Strickland said. “And we want to win as bad as they do. … I feel like they think they have something to prove, being that they’re 8-8 (in the ACC). But we have something to prove also.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service