CHAPEL HILL When North Carolina last traveled to Marylands Comcast Center, a person sitting in the student section screamed a profanity during the national anthem. Perhaps if the arena hadnt been so silent, the word wouldnt have been so audible. But it was.
The story of that moment hasnt made its way to Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels freshman point guard. But Paige has been told a thing or two about what its like to play at Maryland how tough the fans can be, and how loud they can be when the Terrapins most need to make an opposing team uncomfortable.
I just heard they have one of the craziest student sections in the country, Paige said Tuesday. Im excited.
Thats one way to put it. The Comcast Center is likely to be at its frenzied best or perhaps worst, depending on perspective when the Tar Heels visit Wednesday night. For one, the Terrapins will be celebrating senior night. Second, theyre likely to enter with a sense of desperation since they own an NCAA tournament resume that needs a boost.
When Maryland beat Duke on Feb. 16, its NCAA tournament hopes seemed secure. The Terrapins had a favorable schedule in front of them, with winnable games at Boston College and Georgia Tech. Maryland lost both of those, which is part of the reason its game against North Carolina has taken on added importance.
There is no shortage of NCAA tournament projections these days. Its difficult to find one that includes Maryland, which is ranked 69th in the RPI.
(We) try not to think about where we are just because people think were on the bubble, Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said this week. We might not be. You dont know what the committees thinking, where they have us. We put ourselves behind the eight ball, lost a few games we shouldnt have lost maybe on paper.
We did, so we are where we are.
The Tar Heels season finale at home against Duke looms, but coach Roy Williams and his players have refused, at least publicly, to entertain thoughts about that game. The focus is on Maryland.
UNC played one of its best halves of the season during its 62-52 victory against the Terrapins on Jan. 19. By the end of that game, the Tar Heels 42-20 half was a distant memory for Williams, who focused more on his teams poor play in the second half.
Since then, Williams has dramatically altered his teams style of play. The Tar Heels have won five of six games and five consecutive, their longest winning streak of the season since Williams began using a four-guard starting lineup.
That lineup is likely to leave North Carolina vulnerable against Marylands formidable front line, which is led by 7-foot-1 center Alex Len.
Yeah, they have a big front line and thats going to be a struggle for us, I think, because of our small lineup, Tar Heels guard Dexter Strickland said. But I dont think it will be that big of a struggle, because we like to run. And I dont think they like to run as (much) as we do.
Since going small, Williams has wanted the rebounding to improve. The lack of rebounding during the second half of a victory last week at Clemson had him furious, and his team responded better in its victory against Florida State on Sunday.
Maryland could offer North Carolinas small lineup its most difficult test since that lineup debuted in a loss at Duke on Feb. 13. The Terrapins are big and imposing up front. And for a game they have to have, theyre likely to be desperate, too.
Were aware of it, Strickland said. And we want to win as bad as they do. I feel like they think they have something to prove, being that theyre 8-8 (in the ACC). But we have something to prove also.