CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- On a day when North Carolina's favorite son ended his singular basketball career, Maryland's veterans made history of their own on the Tar Heels' turf.
Obinna Ekezie, Laron Profit and Terrell Stokes joined a select group last night, when No. 5 Maryland beat No. 9 North Carolina, 89-76, before 21,572 at the Smith Center. The Terps overcame severe front-line foul trouble with a 3-2 zone and used a 12-2 spurt to turn a tenuous 67-63 lead into a romp.
It was Maryland's third win in its past four trips to North Carolina, and the hat trick for the seniors was something that had been accomplished only by other Tobacco Road rivals, and then only once since 1963. Duke's class of 1991 won three of four here.
"It's a special accomplishment," Profit said. "To have it happen on the day when Michael Jordan, the most famous Tar Heel of them all, retired puts a special spin on it."
The main competition of the nationally televised affair was among the three seniors, to see who would have the best game. Profit continued his hot shooting of late and had a game-high 24 points. Point guard Stokes had a season-high 10 points to go with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 8-0.
Those two were consistent, while Ekezie did his damage in the second half, when he had all 19 of his points. Outplayed by Brendan Haywood in the first half, when the 7-foot Tar Heels sophomore had carte blanche in the lane, Ekezie backed in and bumped out the Tar Heels.
"Our three seniors tonight were just incredible," coach Gary Williams said. "They controlled the game. They've all taken shots [from critics] over their careers, and it was great to get a win like that."
Before it ran its record to 5-9 in this building, Maryland already had more wins than any other visitor in the arena named for Dean Smith, the winningest coach in Division I history. Bill Guthridge's second team doesn't have anyone remotely like Jordan -- who does? -- but North Carolina (14-4, 2-2) was ranked for its 298th straight game.
Besides solidifying its hold on second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland (16-2, 4-1) ended a five-game losing streak on ranked opponents' courts, a drought that was nearly 2 years old. For all of the success Williams has had as an underdog here, last night's win as a favorite was just as sweet.
It didn't look as if it would come about when Maryland was whistled for 14 fouls in the first half to four for North Carolina. Ekezie, Mike Mardesich and Lonny Baxter combined for nine fouls, two rebounds and no points in the first half, but Maryland took solace in a 43-42 deficit.
The Terps stuck with the zone Williams had gone to out of necessity, kept their cool at the offensive end and began to box out after getting out-rebounded 23-10 in the first half.
Maryland's half-court defense got to North Carolina, which shot 40 percent from the field in the second half and committed 18 turnovers. At the other basket, the Terps made 53.6 percent, the first time a Tar Heels opponent had gone over 50 since Maryland handed Guthridge his first loss as a head coach a year ago today at Cole Field House.
Ekezie didn't miss in the second half, when the Terps cleared out for the 6-10 Nigerian.
"It was a big-man clinic," Profit said. "I saw so many moves, I was getting dizzy."
North Carolina had been 3-0 against ranked teams, but it crumbled under the weight of Maryland's seniors, who were backed by 20 points from sophomore forward Terence Morris and some quality minutes from freshmen Juan Dixon and Danny Miller.
Haywood had 18 points and 11 rebounds, but junior point guard Ed Cota stumbled down the stretch. He figured in 20 of North Carolina's first 23 points, but shot 1-for-5 in the second and finished with 17 points.
"Their zone bothered us a lot," Guthridge said. "We weren't able to get any penetration inside, and I think that was the big difference. Maryland certainly is a top-three or -four team."
Ekezie had nine of Maryland's 11 points during a five-minute stretch early in the second half. His post-up jumper over Haywood put the Terps on top for good at 53-51 with 14: 45 left. Ademola Okulaja's three-point play cut North Carolina's deficit to 67-63 with 7: 26 left, but two free throws by Miller began the decisive 12-2 run that pushed the difference to 79-65 with 2: 49 left.
Ekezie added three free throws and a sweet baseline maneuver in traffic. After Profit slammed in transition, Steve Francis fed Ekezie for the three-point play that added to Maryland's comfort level at the free-throw line, where it made 10 straight in the final 1: 40.
"You have to be tough in a situation like that," said Ekezie, who sat out the last 6: 44 of the first half with his third foul. "I couldn't play any worse. Why not go out and play better?"
NOTES: It was Maryland's most lopsided win here since 1975, when the Terps won by 22. The Tar Heels were called for six fouls in the second half before the Terps got their first. Baxter got three fouls in one minute of first-half action. Francis, Maryland's leading scorer, had a season-low eight points, but the junior made a bid for Play of the Day for the second time in a week. After an Ekezie turnover in the first half, Okulaja came to a jump stop. Francis went for his pump fake and leapfrogged right over the 6-9 senior.
Next for Terps
Opponent: Georgia Tech
Site: Cole Field House, College Park
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 1/14/99