Unbeaten and top-ranked North Carolina has had two close calls in its last four contests, but the Tar Heels haven’t played a close game at home since last season.
Maryland visits the Smith Center on Saturday as the Tar Heels seek their 12th straight home win and look to open 4-0 in ACC play for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
North Carolina (18-0, 3-0) is already off to its best start since 1985-86, when a team led by Brad Daugherty won its first 21 games. These Heels, though, barely remained unbeaten in their first two ACC road contests, winning 90-88 in overtime at Clemson on Jan. 6 before a 83-82 victory at Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
In the most recent game, Tyler Hansbrough had 27 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 13-of-15 from the free-throw line, but his biggest play was a blocked shot in the closing seconds to help preserve the victory.
“Tyler was really something else,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.
Hansbrough is already a top candidate for national player of the year honors, as he’s averaging 21.6 points and 10.0 rebounds to lead the conference in both categories. He has double-doubles in each of North Carolina’s three ACC games.
Still, the Tar Heels had to recover from a seven-point deficit in the second half against Georgia Tech and make game-saving defensive stops before and after Danny Green hit one of two from the free-throw line to break an 82-all tie.
“This team has some fight in them,” junior Marcus Ginyard told the school’s official Web site. “We pull through in late-game situations. At the right time, this team comes up with an extra push.”
There has been no such drama this season in Chapel Hill, where the Tar Heels have won 11 straight and 28 of 29. The lone loss in that stretch came late last season, 81-80 in overtime against Virginia Tech.
They are 9-0 at home this season - each win coming by double digits - and scoring 98.0 points per game and winning by an average of nearly 30. North Carolina is shooting 50.9 percent from the field at home, while Hansbrough is shooting 61.9 percent and averaging 23.4 points at the Smith Center.
Maryland (11-7, 1-2) hasn’t won in Chapel Hill since the 2002-03 season, losing three straight by an average of 23 points. The Terrapins have also lost five of six overall to the Tar Heels, though their lone win came in the most recent meeting on Feb. 25, 89-87.
Hansbrough had 22 points but only four rebounds in that game as the Terps outrebounded North Carolina 46-33.
Maryland is coming off its first ACC win, 71-64 over Wake Forest at home Tuesday. Sophomore Greivis Vasquez had 22 points while senior reserve Bambale Osby had 16 and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
Vasquez leads the team with 16.8 points per game.
The Terps had lost their first two ACC contests by a combined four points.
“I felt like we should have won our first two games and be 3-0, and if a few plays went the other way we would be,” senior forward James Gist said.
Maryland has played on the road just twice this season. They’re 1-1, losing their ACC road opener 67-66 to Virginia Tech. The Terps won their last four ACC road games of 2006-07.
Coach Gary Williams’ team is hoping for a boost Saturday from the possible return of starting guard Eric Hayes, who has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle.