|Joel James flexes for the fans during Saturday's win against the Terrapins, moving UNC to 2-2 in the ACC. (US Presswire)|
And let's not forget that we can't have it both ways: Beating Maryland has become a quasi-detriment/indictment on Kentucky's resume, so it can't be worth too much protein for UNC.
But I will say: good win, Tar Heels, and I'm getting closer to believing this team has the ability to pull itself into form and make a run at the NCAA tournament. (The fact I'm even qualifying these circumstances speaks to the dip that UNC has taken this season; this was a top-15 preseason team.)
Roy Williams' team -- which didn't have bench player Leslie McDonald for a third straight game due to a knee injury -- led wire to wire on Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, fending off a Maryland squad that was only a few days removed from defeating NC State.
That's the ACC for you. Expect this kind of spin-the-wheel-see-the-outcome random run of results throughout league play. UNC headed back to its dorm rooms with a 62-52 victory over the Terps, this coming after a week's worth of rest following the stabilizing and solid road win against Florida State last Saturday.
(Side note: What has happened to UNC's offense, anyway? For all its faults, at least the team has been able to keep a top-10 points-per-game clip throughout this season. Yet the team came into Saturday averaging 79.7 points but has scored 52, 59 and 62 in three of its past four games.)
The Heels gave Maryland hell in part because of Reggie Bullock's booming first half. Bullock, the deep-shot specialist who makes UNC a different kind of threat when he plays like this, had UNC's first eight points and outscored Maryland 21-20 in the first half. He finished with a career-best 24, while James Michael McAdoo chipped in 19 points and 11 rebounds.
UNC fans might be agitated with me over this post, but I ask them, shouldn't agitation still lie with Williams' club? At one point, UNC led by 23, yet the game got a lot closer than it needed to be down the stretch. This was a win, but it wasn't a pretty one. North Carolina looked ragged for most of the second half. Had it not bequeathed Bullock's fortune in the first half, Maryland could've taken this one.
The Heels are getting there. At least the team seems to be trending up. But for now, at 2-2 in the ACC and 12-5 overall, we can stop short of saying all worries have subsided. Beat Georgia Tech at home on Wednesday, then go win at NC State in a week, and if both those results come to pass, then it's fair to graduate the Tar Heels into the discussion of indisputable tournament teams.
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