The Tar Heels' 19-point lead dwindled to almost nothing before Joseph Forte emphatically finished what he started, sealing a 86-83 victory Wednesday night.
Forte scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half for No. 9 North Carolina, which couldn't do much wrong shortly after halftime and didn't do much of anything as 14th-ranked Maryland got back in the game.
"It was almost too much too soon," said Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty, referring to a seven-minute stretch in which North Carolina turned a four-point deficit to a 12-point cushion.
"Then we start looking at the clock," Doherty said, "and it's not running."
The Tar Heels led 71-52 with 8:14 left before Maryland rallied to 80-77 with 27 seconds remaining. Forte then hit two foul shots and a layup to seal the victory.
"We want the ball in his hands because he's such a good foul shooter," said Doherty, off to a fine start in his first year coaching at his alma mater.
It was the ninth straight win for North Carolina (12-2, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) and first at Maryland in four games since 1997.
Terence Morris had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Terrapins (11-4, 2-1), whose 10-game winning streak ended. Juan Dixon scored 22 and Lonny Baxter added 20.
"The start of the second half was the game," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We came out the first 10 minutes of the second half and lacked intensity. During that stretch it seemed like we couldn't get a rebound. They also hurt us from the 3-point line."
Forte and Jason Capel hit 3-pointers and Kris Lang added a three-point play as the Tar Heels opened the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 41-36 lead. After Baxter and Dixon scored for Maryland, Capel drilled a pair of 3-pointers and Forte tallied six points in a 17-4 run that made it 58-44.
Mike Mardesich then scored inside, ending Maryland's five-minute drought without a field goal, but Brendan Haywood responded with two dunks and a layup for a 64-49 lead.
North Carolina, which had dropped its last three games at Maryland, improved to 29-17 at Cole Field House. Doherty went 8-1 against Maryland as a player, including 3-1 at Cole.
"It's great. We used to really have a great celebration in this locker room," he said. "I wanted this win for Brendan more than anybody, because him being a senior and not having won here. I wanted him to go out with a win."
Baxter scored 11 of Maryland's first 13 points before a basket by Ronald Curry gave North Carolina its first lead at 14-13. Down 21-20, the Terrapins got seven points from Dixon in a 9-2 run.
North Carolina then used 3-pointers by Curry and Adam Boone to draw even, but Morris scored on a drive and added a 3-pointer to put Maryland up 36-32 at halftime.
At that point, the Tar Heels weren't at all concerned.
"We felt like we had some open looks in the first half," Curry said. "We felt like we weren't going to play two bad halves."
Said Williams: "I'm very disappointed. We were in a great position at halftime to control the game, but they had more open looks at the start of the second half than they did the entire first half."
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