CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Bambale Osby dropped to the court with his hands covering his face. He knew his basket had given Maryland the lead late. He heard the horn as North Carolina’s final desperation shot clanged off the rim. Yet he still couldn’t believe it.
“It didn’t feel real, man,” Osby said. “It was like, ‘Did this really just happen?”’
The same could be said of the top-ranked — and formerly unbeaten — Tar Heels.
Osby’s layup with 21 seconds to go helped Maryland stun North Carolina 82-80 on Saturday, a shocking loss that likely will end the Tar Heels’ run atop the polls.
James Gist finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Terrapins (12-7, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who blew an 11-point lead midway through the second half but still held on in a back-and-forth finish to win here for the first time in five years.
Maryland hardly seemed the ideal candidate to stand up to North Carolina at the Smith Center. This was, after all, the same team that lost at home to Ohio and American in consecutive games in December. And the Tar Heels (18-1, 3-1) — off to their best start in two decades — had been rolling to big victories behind their crowd-pleasing and fast-paced transition attack.
But the Terrapins played tough and physical defense on Tyler Hansbrough, cutting off the All-American and making the Tar Heels work hard elsewhere for good looks in a largely halfcourt game. Maryland also showed the fortitude to bounce back after North Carolina pushed ahead by four in the final 2½ minutes.
“I think our players really believed that if we could execute really good on offense, we had a chance to win the game,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
The Tar Heels certainly had proven they could win the close ones, from Wayne Ellington’s last-second 3-pointer in a 90-88 overtime win at Clemson two weeks ago to Wednesday’s 83-82 win at Georgia Tech. But this time, they couldn’t take advantage of several chances to answer Osby’s layup.
After Ellington missed a 3-pointer and a driving shot, North Carolina could only watch as Hansbrough’s last gasp 3-pointer bounced off the rim at the horn as the Terrapins ran to midcourt to celebrate.
Hansbrough had 17 points and 14 rebounds to lead North Carolina, which shot just 38 percent and went 7-for-23 from 3-point range. The Tar Heels were off to their best start since winning 21 in a row in the 1985-86 season, and came in averaging 98 points per game at home.
But on this day, North Carolina never led by more than four points.
“We’ve been living on the edge, and it caught up with us today,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
The Tar Heels fought back from a 52-41 deficit midway through the second half to take a 78-74 lead with 2½ minutes to go. Maryland then tied it at 78.
Then — after two free throws by Gist and a basket by Hansbrough — the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Osby found himself guarded by the 6-5 Green inside on a switch. Gist sent the ball to Osby, who spun away from an off-balance Green as he fell down and dropped it in for the 82-80 lead.
The Terrapins’ defense — the stingiest in the ACC for field goal percentage — helped them hang on in the final frantic seconds.
“When the red light came on and the clock said zero-zero-zero, that’s a feeling I’m not going to forget,” Gist said. “I felt like we could win this game, but I never realized how it would feel.”