COLLEGE PARK - The results were the same for Ronald Curry, but the role was different.
Nearly two months after leading the North Carolina football team to a three-point victory over Maryland by scoring the game-winning touchdown, Curry helped the ninth-ranked Tar Heels to another three-point win over the Terrapins - in basketball - last night at Cole Field House.
He might not have been the star of his team's 86-83 victory - sophomore guard Joseph Forte was, scoring 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half - but Curry's role was not overlooked. He was ever the quarterback, looking more comfortable as North Carolina's new-found point guard than at any point in his career.
The victory was the ninth straight for the Tar Heels since Curry returned, along with reserve forward Julius Peppers, from a disappointing 6-5 football season. It is no small coincidence that North Carolina looks a lot quicker and a lot more cohesive since Curry rejoined the team.
"He's played the largest role [in the winning streak]," said Forte, the former DeMatha High School star who didn't disappoint the 19 family members and friends for whom he left tickets. "He's taken over the leadership of this team. He's helped me step up."
Said senior center Brendan Haywood, who won for the first time here as a Tar Heel: "Ronald's just what we needed. Earlier in the season, we were throwing the ball away a lot and now we're not. And Ronald has such good quickness that teams have a tough time pressing us."
Curry's final stats do not jump off the page - 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds - but his contribution wasn't measured strictly by the numbers.
His ability to blow by Maryland's Steve Blake and get the ball to either Forte or Jason Capel (13 points) enabled the Tar Heels to go on a 22-6 run to start the second half. All seven of Curry's assists came in the second half, including a slick feed to Max Owens on what turned out to a three-point play that gave the Tar Heels their biggest lead, 71-52.
Curry also hit three of seven shots from three-point range, most coming with Maryland paying more attention to Forte, Capel or Forte.
"Coach [Matt] Doherty told me I have to shoot more," said Curry. "He said if the shot is there, I have to take it. I'm not going to be the weak link on this team."
The biggest question surrounding the Tar Heels coming into this season was at point guard, where Ed Cota started for most of his four years and left as the school's all-time assists leader. Curry, a much-heralded high school player in Hampton, Va., had played sparingly as a freshman and missed last year after tearing his Achilles' heel in football.
"I knew it was going to be up to me," Curry said.
Curry made some big plays in last week's 70-69 victory over then-No. 4 Wake Forest, including a crucial three late in the game. Even before that game, Doherty told the 6-foot-2 sophomore to be more assertive, to think back to his days as a dominant high school player.
"I told him to imagine himself back in the gym in Hampton," said Doherty. "I knew that if he didn't shoot, no one would guard him."
Maryland coach Gary Williams admitted last night that the Terps gambled a bit by leaving Curry open, and he burned them.
"He's a steadying influence," said Williams. "He was one of the top three or four point guards in the country coming out of high school. When you have a team with two of three wing shooters like they have, it's almost better to have a point guard who doesn't shoot it a lot."
Curry can remember the player he used to be, the one who was often compared with Allen Iverson coming out of high school.
"I was a more flashier player coming into college," said Curry. "My role has changed. I can still do what I did before, but I don't need to be a big scorer."