The first half of this game was a great sign of how good this team could be when the right pieces are clicking and the Tar Heels play great defense. And two of those right pieces were Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo. Bullock scored 21 points in the first half and McAdoo made multiple plays on both ends including hitting some NBA-level shots against Maryland big man Alex Len to pace the Heels to huge first half lead. On the defensive end, UNC was very active and forced Maryland into a horrific TO rate of 38% in the first half. The period was capped off by a steal and dunk from Dexter Strickland that had the Dean Dome rocking.
After halftime things got sloppy. All the shots, particularly the ones around the basket stopped falling. Everyone, including the previously hot Bullock and McAdoo couldn't buy baskets and Maryland figured out enough of an offense to claw back into the game. In other words, UNC didn't make it easy and while Maryland was never closer than ten points it did feel like UNC was losing control of the game. So, while it would be nice for UNC to put together a complete game, having an impressive half then struggling a bit to close it out is better than the alternative. Besides, Maryland is one of the top teams in the country in FG% and eFG% defense. That was likely reflected in the second half with UNC's offensive woes since it wasn't really turnovers or execution that caused UNC to stumble but simply missing shots.
Turning to the stat sheet, Bullock led the way with a career high 24 points but only three in the second half. McAdoo had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Paige did not shoot the ball well but had six assists and zero turnovers plus did an outstanding job running the half court offense on two late game possessions. P.J. Hairston was 1-8 shooting hitting only one three and committing three turnovers. However his play down the stretch proved huge. Hairston grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw to give UNC another clock burning possession and then fought for a rebound which ultimately went off Maryland to give UNC the ball again. Hairston showed in this game he is capable of being a contributor even when his shot is not falling. Also of note is the lineup Roy Williams used to finish the game. Again the Tar Heels went small because that is the only way to get Hairston on the floor with the other four starters.
UNC moves to 2-2 in the ACC and will face Georgia Tech in another home game on Wednesday night before traveling to NC State next Saturday. While it is too early to call this game definitive step in the right direction it did remind me of the NC State game in Chapel Hill from 2011 where Harrison Barnes had 25 points and everything seemed to really click for the first time. This team still needs to grow but the signs of improvement are there and for the first time this season it feels like they have a little traction.