Almost nobody believed that eighth-seeded Maryland would win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but there were nevertheless tears in a hushed locker room Friday after the Terps suffered what was probably a season-ending loss to a top-seeded North Carolina team that outran and outshot them in the quarterfinals.
The Terps (17-15) were young and bold enough to believe they could overcome steep odds against the Tar Heels, particularly after North Carolina's John Henson, the conference's leading rebounder and shot blocker, left with an injured wrist in the first half and ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller got into second-half trouble.
After North Carolina (28-4) secured an 85-69 victory behind point guard Kendall Marshall's 13 points and 12 assists, Maryland's locker room inside Philips Arena was so quiet that the media felt compelled to practically whisper.
James Padgett — who was among three Maryland frontcourt players held scoreless — slouched in a folding chair with headphones on and his sweatshirt hood pulled tight around his face. Asked what he might have done differently, Padgett paused.
"Everything. Yeah, everything," the junior replied. "Just play hard and get back on D, try to concentrate more and make shots. Just everything. It's always tough to go out on a loss, especially like this. For the seniors not coming back, it's pretty tough on them because this is how they're going to be remembered."
Maryland was led by Terrell Stoglin, who scored 30 points and shot better than 50 percent (11-for-21) for the second straight game.
Maryland will miss the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Asked if the Terps deserved to play in any postseason tournament, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon replied: "I don't know. We had to fight so hard just to do what we did. We need the weekend just to sit back and talk about it."
Maryland seems a longshot to make the NIT field that will be announced Sunday. "We had a winning record," Turgeon said. "If you had told me that in December, I didn't think there was a chance — when we were squeezing by Mount St. Mary's and Radford and losing our point guard (Pe'Shon Howard) halfway through the league. I don't know if we deserve it, but there's a lot of teams that play in postseason that don't deserve it."
Last year, the Terps, in coach Gary Williams' last year before retiring, missed the postseason for the first time since 1992-93. This season's postseason prospects dimmed when Maryland lost four of its final five regular-season games before routing Wake Forest in the ACC tournament opener.
North Carolina entered having won eight straight ACC tournament games against the Terps. The Tar Heels covet a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Since a one-point loss to Duke on Feb. 8, North Carolina has now won eight straight games.
North Carolina ran effectively after Maryland misses and made baskets. "Run back! Run back!" Turgeon loudly yelled from the bench in the first half. The Tar Heels had 19 fast-break points to Maryland's five.
It was a notably physical game. Maryland senior Sean Mosley (10 points, six rebounds) tumbled to the floor at least three times on rebounds or after being fouled. Zeller was called for a flagrant foul on Mosley with about 14 minutes remaining. Later, Maryland was whistled for a flagrant violation when James Michael McAdoo was fouled by Berend Weijs on a drive to the basket.
Henson left for the locker room with about 13 minutes remaining in the first half. He had fallen near the Carolina basket after being fouled and came up holding his left wrist. He returned to the bench with the wrist taped, but coach Roy Williams later said the wrist didn't appear to be broken.
After Henson departed, "We were hoping we could score a little bit inside without him in there," Turgeon said. "But McAdoo's pretty good, too." A frustrated Turgeon said of his frontcourt players: "[Ashton] Pankey is the only one that played."
Maryland guard Nick Faust (11 points) often penetrated into the lane but struggled to finish. "I think a little bit was on my part, not concentrating all the way through. Should have finished a couple chippies that I had," Faust said. "It was just an off day all around for the team."
North Carolina, which led by 10 at the half, scored the first eight points of the second half to up the margin to 44-26. Reggie Bullock hit consecutive 3-pointers and McAdoo dunked over center Alex Len.
The Heels, who only converted two 3-pointers in the first half, are near the bottom of the ACC in made 3-pointers. But Marshall and others converted key baskets from behind the arc in the second half. The Tar Heels were 7-for-15 on 3-point attempts.
Marshall averaged 12 assists against Maryland in North Carolina's three victories over the Terps this season. In Friday's game, he broke the mark of Craig Neal (Georgia Tech, 1987-88) for most single-season assists in ACC history.
Maryland twice cut the lead to seven, the second time at 54-47. But North Carolina soon extended its lead. Marshall's 3-pointer made it 61-47 with about 11 minutes left.
Barring a postseason invitation, it was the final game for Mosley, Weijs and walk-on Jon Dillard. Stoglin and his father said in interviews that the player expects to return for his junior season rather than enter the NBA draft, but that he will make a final decision later.
Mosley was asked what he will remember most about his career.
"Putting on my Maryland jersey, that's really going to stand out for me," he said. "I think I had a terrific four years here. I'm just blessed to be the position that I'm in."