CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina spent the first two months of the season looking every bit like the nation's top-ranked team. Things have gotten much tougher now that the Tar Heels are starting Atlantic Coast Conference play.
After several big-margin nonconference victories, the Tar Heels have had close games against Clemson, Georgia Tech and Maryland in the past two weeks. And while they found a way to win the first two, their lack of defensive intensity and out-of-rhythm offense in Saturday's 82-80 home loss to the Terrapins proved troubling.
The loss, likely to drop the Tar Heels from the No. 1 ranking, prompted coach Roy Williams to say ``I haven't done a very good job with this basketball team the last couple of weeks.''
But ultimately, the responsibility seems to rest with a group of players who haven't yet heeded their coach's constant badgering to play tough defense and show steady intensity.
The Tar Heels (18-1, 3-1 ACC) struggled in both areas against the unranked Terrapins (12-7, 2-2), who shot 47 percent and led by 11 points - North Carolina's biggest deficit of the season - midway through the second half. The Tar Heels managed one significant offensive flurry to erase that deficit and eventually take a four-point lead late, but they never closed it out and fell behind for good on Bambale Osby's layup with 21 seconds left.
North Carolina missed several shots to tie or win in the final seconds, the last being Tyler Hansbrough's 3-pointer as the horn sounded.
``We were just hoping things would go our way, hoping that we would get the lucky bounce, hoping that we knock down the shot at the last second,'' said Marcus Ginyard, who had nine points. ``But the game shouldn't have come down to that. We should make things go our way a lot earlier than the last couple of seconds.
``Maryland, no question, wanted it more.''
The Tar Heels had averaged 98 points at home, with most games ending in crowd-pleasing romps behind their fast-paced transition attack. But North Carolina struggled against the Terrapins' defense, which constantly doubled Hansbrough inside and turned this one into a halfcourt contest.
ng with some easy baskets.
North Carolina also had a 90-88 overtime win at Clemson on Wayne Ellington's last-second 3-pointer two weeks ago. The only easy ACC game so far was last weekend's 93-62 win here against North Carolina State, which managed just 13 first-half points.
``Like I said with North Carolina State the first half, I thought we were pretty doggone good,'' Williams said. ``We haven't played well since then.''

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