COLLEGE PARK -- North Carolina coach Dean Smith has tried a number of things to get his Tar Heels out of their slump. He praised their defense against Virginia and their offense against Florida State.
Yesterday, with his team down 22 points to Maryland at halftime, Smith tried a new approach. He scorched them with a rare locker-room tirade, and then stormed back out onto the floor at Cole Field House. By himself.
"I stomped out like a little kid, which I'm not," said Smith, college basketball's winningest active coach with 735.
North Carolina stormed back, too. The 10th-ranked Tar Heels scored the first six points of the second half. After the Terps pushed their lead back to 59-44, North Carolina went on 36-20 run to take an 80-79 lead on Hubert Davis' three-point play with 18.5 seconds left.
But the Tar Heels ended up losing again, 82-80. The fourth straight defeat represented the longest losing streak since 1965, Smith's fourth season at North Carolina. Maryland -- and a sophomore guard named Gary Williams -- was part of that losing streak, too.
"I think Carolina is a very good tournament team," said Williams, who is 3-3 against Smith. "If you look at all the teams in the ACC this year, from top to bottom, they have all gone through their stretches. North Carolina is in a tough stretch now, but obviously, in the second half, they played like Carolina teams play."
Smith said: "Maybe our resurgence started in the second half. Nobody said that we were a great team, but we are a capable team."
North Carolina is also a strange team. After getting the ball to 7-foot center Eric Montross on their first four trips of the game -- he scored the team's first seven points -- the Tar Heels went long stretches without sending the ball inside. They forced a number of shots and committed 13 of their 16 turnovers before halftime.
Though North Carolina played well in the second half, shutting down Maryland inside until late in the game, it never seemed to take control. Even when Walt Williams tipped in his own miss for the game-winner, it came when two Tar Heels went up to block Evers Burns and left the lane unprotected.
"We went for the block, and we knew if we fouled him [Burns], he's not a very good free-throw shooter," said Montross. "We didn't box out, and they ended up getting the rebound."
Said Davis, who led the Tar Heels with 24 points: "When we took the lead, it felt good. I thought we had the game. I can't figure out why this is happening. If we had played like we did in the second half for the whole game, we would have won. But we just go into spells."
One that even the game's winningest active coach can't seem to break.