CHAPEL HILL – The criticism of North Carolina thus far has been that the Tar Heels are overreliant on Reggie Bullock, and they don’t play good enough defense to win in crunch time.
Well, when Bullock plays the way he did Saturday, there’s no such thing as overeliant, and there won’t be crunch time.
Bullock outscored Maryland by himself in the first half en route to scoring a career-high 24 points and leading North Carolina’s 62-52 victory against Maryland at the Dean E. Smith Center.
“It’s a confidence-booster for me,” Bullock said. “My teammates were getting me open. I’m blessed with the talent to shoot the ball, and (my teammates) were getting me open.”
The Tar Heels (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) were able to build a big lead by way of their perimeter players, harassing a Maryland team that is among the nation’s poorer ball-handling teams. The Terrapins, who came into the game ranked 329th in the country in turnover margin, committed 15 first-half turnovers and allowed North Carolina to turn the giveaways into 14 points.
The Tar Heels made nearly half of their field goals in the opening 20 minutes, punctuated by a Dexter Strickland steal and fast break dunk to end the half with a 42-20 lead.
“We just came out with a lot of intensity,” North Carolina freshman point guard Marcus Paige said. “That was probably the best half we’ve played all year, just right away, pressuring from the beginning.”
The second half looked like a different North Carolina team, and the poor 20 minutes did little to answer concerns that the Tar Heels are two-faced.
North Carolina shot under 24 percent from the floor in the second half, allowing Maryland (14-4, 2-3) cut a 23-point lead down to 11 with 3:58 to play.
From that point, neither team was able to accomplish much on offense, and the two teams combined for two field goals the rest of the way.
“We feel good – we don’t feel good about the way we played in the second half,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “... The second half, we got away from being quite as active defensively, and we really got away from what had gotten us the lead on the offensive end.”
After Bullock scored 21 points to Maryland’s 20 in the first half, the junior was held to three points in the final 20 minutes.
The rest of the Tar Heels scored 17 total points in the second half as North Carolina’s offense lost its ability to consistently obtain quality shots.
“The second half, we had some open shots we didn’t make, and it doesn’t look as good,” Williams said. “We started going a little bit too much one-on-one down the middle. We lost the ball three times on a dribble down the middle, and we should never do that. If it’s that crowded, you shouldn’t try to dribble it in there.”
Paige notched six assists and no turnovers for North Carolina, while James Michael McAdoo recorded a double-double for by scoring 19 points and adding 11 rebounds.
Dez Wells led the Terrapins with 21 points and Charles Mitchell had 10 rebounds.
As North Carolina’s offense struggled to put away Maryland, the Terrapins couldn’t find the run to swing the game.
The Terps’ biggest run in the final 10 minutes was 6-0.
“(North Carolina) was a team that needed a win and they played like it,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “... We weren’t very good. It’s pretty obvious. We threw the ball to them more than sometimes we threw it to us.”
Williams said North Carolina will go to the tape of the game to show the squad a first half filled with exactly what the Tar Heels want, followed by a second half filled with exactly what they don’t.
The inconsistency, Williams said, is merely the mark of an inexperienced team.
“(Saturday) I think that the first half was really, really pretty and the second half was really, really ugly,” Williams said. “Young guys do that.
“Also, when you’re younger, you see a 22-point lead and you thing everything is going to be rosey, but this is the ACC and no one in this league is going to stop.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com