Tar Heels improve to 12-2 with victory over Maryland

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UNC sits atop the ACC along with rival Duke
CHAPEL HILL/SMITH CENTER — With only two regular season games remaining, North Carolina controls its own destiny. The Tar Heels defeated Maryland 87-76 on Sunday night and improved to 12-2 in ACC play, setting up the final week of the schedule and presenting them with an opportunity to win the conference title outright.

Carolina’s opportunity owes to its own success as well as Virginia Tech’s win over Duke on Saturday night, moving the Blue Devils to 12-2. Next Saturday’s primetime showdown in Chapel Hill therefore will carry stakes beyond the emotions driving the rivalry.

Against the Terrapins, Carolina started fast. Harrison Barnes drilled three three-pointers in the opening minutes of the game, and UNC took a 12-point lead into halftime. The game became sloppy in the second half, as both teams made defensive mistakes and committed costly turnovers. And still, despite the defensive lapses and the high final score, neither team shot better than 41 percent from the field.

Tyler Zeller continues to make a strong case for first-team all-conference. He shot 10-for-16 and finished with 25 points. Barnes went cold from the field but plowed away for a total of 21 points. Meanwhile, John Henson did his usual Doctor Octopus thing, going for 10 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks. Although Maryland's stud scorer Jordan Williams accrued 16 points and 19 rebounds of his own, Henson enjoyed some very good defensive moments against him.

The starting backcourt of Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland combined for only 10 points, but they handed out 18 assists with only five turnovers.

Encouragingly, sophomore wing Leslie McDonald rediscovered his jump shot, knocking in 3-for-5 on threes en route to 15 points. He doesn’t need to be a star, only a reliable weapon who hits a respectable percentage of his attempts.

Having said that, McDonald faces more pressure than anyone would prefer for him to have. Freshman Reggie Bullock re-injured his chronically sore knee against the Terrapins and has been playing increasingly poorly of late. Will he regain the shooting form he showed at Boston College a month ago?

Looking at the bigger picture, Carolina has cracked KenPom’s top 10, and the Heels now are ranked No. 13 in both the media and coaches polls. The team’s adjusted defense has risen to No. 2 nationally, while the offense is mired at No. 53. Carolina is the only team besides Cincinnati in KenPom's overall national top 25 to have an offense outside the top 50.

Wednesday night’s contest in Tallahassee figures to be difficult, although FSU is without versatile forward Chris Singleton, who recently broke his foot. The Seminoles defeated Duke at home earlier this season, but that was with a healthy lineup. The Devils, meanwhile, will host Clemson prior to the finale against the Heels.

To view the UNC/Maryland box score, click here.

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