Maryland adds Heels to its elite 8

Terps subs eat up Carolina, 81-73, for 8th ACC win in row

Streak is UM league record

Mardesich scores 10

UNC gamble backfires

February 27, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The eight-man rotation has grown into a record eight-game conference win streak, and it shows no sign of letting up.

No. 19 Maryland closed in on the second seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a methodical 81-73 conquest of North Carolina before 14,500 at Cole Field House yesterday. Juan Dixon's 23 points on five three-pointers and 16 points and nine rebounds from Terence Morris jump out from the box score, but the benches decided this game.

Coach Gary Williams got maximum effort from his three reserves, as junior center Mike Mardesich had his best game in two years and freshmen Tahj Holden and Drew Nicholas continued to produce clutch plays. A Bill Guthridge gimmick backfired, meanwhile, as North Carolina lost the lead and momentum after a cameo by its "Blue Team" late in the first half.

The result was a single-season record eighth straight win in the ACC for Maryland (21-7, 10-4), which somehow began conference play with three straight losses. It has not lost in the ACC since Jan. 27, when it acquiesced at North Carolina. Tar Heels students stormed the floor that night; fans fled yesterday's matinee early, as the Terps had a 74-60 lead with less than three minutes left.

"We're on a roll," Morris said. "We've got every player going, from starters down to the bench. We need their contributions, especially at the end of the season. It takes a lot of pressure off us when the bench players come in and play like that. Our bench is just as strong as some of the other teams' [starters]. We have an advantage there."

With sophomore center Lonny Baxter limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble, Mardesich delivered his best effort since Maryland knocked off then-No. 1 North Carolina here during his freshman year. Shooting .389 from the field this season, he beat 7-footer Brendan Haywood for five baskets during a 13-minute stretch.

Mardesich finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Holden and Nicholas had just three points each, but the former established himself as a factor early, and fouled out Kris Lang, one of the five McDonald's All-Americans the Tar Heels start, with 14: 27 left. He kicked out to Nicholas for a three-pointer with 9: 02 left, when North Carolina was still hanging around.

The Terps built a 16-9 lead in the first 10 minutes, but then their shooting went sour and the Tar Heels took a 25-23 lead on a short jumper by freshman Joe Forte, who had a game-high 26 points. Guthridge then went with his "Blue Team," a Dean Smith relic from the 1960s that he has polished off recently.

Coming out of a TV timeout with 3: 42 left in the half, Guthridge went with five reserves. Morris posted up for a basket, and the Tar Heels beat the Terps' pressure for a jumper from guard Jonathan Holmes that gave them their final lead. Morris was fouled at the other end with 2: 54 left, and Guthridge rushed his regulars back in after a 48-second break.

Ed Cota and company couldn't resume their rhythm, as Maryland finished the first half with a 12-0 rush.

Morris made both free throws in the bonus, and after one of North Carolina's 12 first-half turnovers, Mardesich had a neat bank shot from the right block. Morris floated into the right corner for a three; Mardesich made an improbable left-handed putback of a Danny Miller miss; and freshman Steve Blake drove left and split Haywood and Cota for a 10-footer off the glass just before the halftime buzzer.

"Their stretch of 12 straight points put us in a hole," Guthridge said, in the understatement of the day.

Maryland's lead was suddenly 37-27, and North Carolina got as close as seven once in the final 15 minutes. That came with 1: 12 left, during a stretch when Williams ordered the Terps not to foul and Cota was in the process of padding his stat line.

Maryland committed just nine turnovers -- its second-lowest total of the season -- and three of those came in the last four minutes, when the Terps got sloppy against some pressure that wasn't all that daunting.

If Maryland did anything yesterday, it took care of the ball. North Carolina owned the inside to the tune of a 42-31 rebounding advantage in last month's meeting. Haywood had 17 rebounds yesterday, but both teams had 38 total and the Tar Heels were restricted to three second chances in the first half.

They did have Forte, who had more than half of their points when his foul-line jumper drew them within 41-35 with 15: 48 left. It took him more than 11 minutes to get off another field-goal attempt, however, and Maryland created some breathing room with a 9-2 run that featured two sweet feeds.

Miller's skip pass over a zone set up a three by Dixon, and the sophomore from Baltimore loosened up and made three more from long distance.

The next time down the floor, North Carolina collapsed on Blake's dribble penetration, and he found Baxter for a wide-open dunk. The lead was back up to double figures, and Maryland reasserted itself as the second-best team in the ACC.

Before he left the floor, Williams kissed his daughter, Kristin, and grabbed the toe of his 3-month-old grandson, David Geoffrey Scott, who took in his first Terps game. Williams' team has used a sharp focus to beat every team in the ACC during its streak, but Dixon broke from routine, looked past Wednesday's home finale with Florida State, and also touched on the future.

"We've got a lot of momentum going into the [ACC] tournament," Dixon said.

Back at you

With yesterday's win over North Carolina, the Terps (10-4 ACC) have now avenged all their conference losses from the first half of the season. A look:

Opp 1st Gm 2nd Gm

N.C. State L 68-66 W 78-73

Duke L 80-70 W 98-87

Ga. Tech L 69-68 W 92-70

Carolina L 75-63 W 81-73

Terps next

Opponent: Florida State (11-14, 6-8 ACC)

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: None/WBAL (1090 AM)

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