COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Another fall, another limp, and North Carolina coach Roy Williams would have pulled Harrison Barnes for the rest of the game.
The sophomore sensed it.
So he focused his adrenaline, ignored the twinges in his re-sprained left ankle, and did what clutch players do: buried UNC’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 9:19 left, and then a jump shot eight minutes later to seal the sixth-ranked Tar Heels’ 83-74 come-from-behind victory at Maryland on Saturday.
“He has a tremendous ability to make shots,” Williams said after his team prevailed at Comcast Center for the first time since 2006, “and tremendous confidence that he’s going to make them.’’
There were multiple reasons why UNC rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit: improved defense after halftime (when Maryland shot 38.7 percent); point guard Kendall Marshall tying a career high with 16 assists; the post play by Tyler Zeller (22 points) and John Henson (17 points, 12 rebounds).
But Barnes’ tenacity was key, too.
The small forward -- who scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half -- had buried plenty of big shots before. But this time was a little different.
He had sprained his left ankle at Wake Forest on Tuesday, didn’t go through even limited practice until Friday, and said he was feeling only at about 60 percent before the Terps' tipoff.
“I knew I was going to be able to play; I just didn’t know to what extent,’’ said Barnes, who competed on a hurting right ankle earlier this year, too -- against Wisconsin.
To make matters worse Saturday, he re-sprained the tender ankle with 17:51 left, after he helped double-team Terrapins guard Sean Mosley, and Mosley tried to save a ball on the sideline by throwing it off Barnes’ knee.
“It was like somebody shot me in the ankle; that’s about how much pain it was,’’ Barnes said. “Because it was already hurt, and you do the same kind of thing to it….”
To add another ouch to the situation, Maryland took its largest lead scant seconds later, when two free throws from guard Terrell Stoglin (20 points, six rebounds, four assists) pushed the Terps ahead 48-39.
It didn’t take Barnes long to check back into the game, but he almost got yanked, again.
“It looked like he was limping around out there on a couple of possessions on the defensive end,’’ Williams said. “And I didn’t tell him, but I made up my mind that if I saw him go down on the defensive end one more time … I was going to take him out for good.
“So maybe some way, somehow, he picked up my vibes because he stopped limping, so I kept him in the game.”
Which ended up being a very good thing for the Tar Heels.
UNC found itself in a potentially big pickle when Zeller picked up his fourth foul with 11:49 left. To that point, he was the only Tar Heel who had scored double-digit points.
Then -- after his steal led to Barnes’ go-ahead 3 -- Marshall picked up his fourth foul, making for a tense situation, what with veteran backup Dexter Strickland lost for the season because of a knee injury.
Williams said he “took a chance” by letting Marshall play the final 7:18 with four fouls. Marshall avoided the officials' whistles, but just after Zeller checked back in, with 3:49 left, Stoglin, the ACC's leading scorer, cut his team’s deficit to 70-69 with a jumper.
"Terrell, he had 20 -- I thought he had 50,'' Williams said. "He really is hard to guard."
But then UNC freshman P.J. Hairston countered Stoglin's shot with a putback after a Barnes miss. Henson added a jumper. And after a Maryland free throw, Barnes’ 2-pointer sealed it.
“Last year we had a lot of games like this, but it shows that we can be tough enough in the end to make the plays and get the stops we need,’’ Zeller said.
Especially when you have guys tough enough to perform when hurting.
Barnes, who talked to reporters as he was being stretched after the game, said he’s never missed a game because of injury. And, he added, he was glad that Williams had enough faith to keep him in the game, even though he knew the coach was concerned.
“The way that he played, and performed under pressure with that ankle, just shows his mentality,’’ Marshall said. “He’s a fighter, and he’s going to find a way to get it done.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.