CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Alyssa Thomas nearly engineered another great escape for No. 8 Maryland. Some serious free-throw troubles by No. 15 North Carolina gave the Terrapins one last chance to steal a win.
But when it counted most, the Terps couldn't figure out a way to hit a 3-pointer over Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.
Thomas scored 11 of her 15 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes, but Maryland missed two 3s – both defended by Ruffin-Pratt – in the closing seconds of a 60-57 loss to the Tar Heels on Thursday night.
The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year added 12 of her 16 rebounds on the defensive end and almost single-handedly willed the Terrapins (10-3, 1-1) to their seventh straight win after they trailed by 11 points with 6:59 to play.
"I thought we showed a lot of heart and character in that we never quit," Terrapins coach Brenda Frese said. "There was a lot of fight in us."
Ruffin-Pratt and Brittany Rountree each scored 13 points, and Ruffin-Pratt blocked Katie Rutan's 3-point attempt in the final seconds.
North Carolina (14-1, 2-0) blew most of an 11-point second-half lead and was just 1 of 7 from the free-throw line in the final minute but won its seventh straight and first in the series since 2010.
"We're excited because it really shouldn't even have been that close," coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "These guys really played hard, and they really played tough down the stretch."
Thomas' drive with 14 seconds left pulled the Terrapins to 59-57.
Danielle Butts hit a free throw with 10.9 seconds left for North Carolina. Teammate Krista Gross chased down her miss and was fouled but missed two foul shots with 9.3 seconds left to give Maryland one last chance.
The Terps worked the ball to Rutan – who entered with a team-best 20 3s – in the corner, but Ruffin-Pratt soared in to block her 3 into the stands with 1.6 seconds left.
After a timeout, Maryland got the ball to Rutan deep on the right wing, but with Ruffin-Pratt in her face, her 3 attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
"I actually lost (Rutan) at the end on that last block. She ran baseline and I didn't see her, so I just ran as fast as I could and blocked the shot. She got that last 3 up. I was just praying that it didn't go in. I contested it, but she shouldn't have caught it from the beginning."
Tianna Hawkins – who averages an ACC-best 18.8 points per game – finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, but had just six points in the second half on 2-of-8 shooting for Maryland, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.
Maryland led by 10 in the first half, but shot just 23.5 percent in the second half – mainly because the Terps missed their first 10 shots after the break.
"Just us coming out, not being focused," Thomas said. "Coach prepared us (that) they were going to jump out on us, pressure us, but we didn't respond."
North Carolina came out of the locker room with a 17-1 run that erased a six-point halftime deficit, gave them the lead for good and put them up by double figures. Latifah Coleman's 3-pointer from the right corner capped that spurt and gave North Carolina its first double-figure lead, 46-36.
It grew to 53-42 on Xylina McDaniel's three-point play with 6:59 to go.
But Black's layup with 1:49 left – which made it 59-49 – was the Tar Heels' final field goal. Three times in the final minute, North Carolina missed the front end of a one-and-one.
"We're going to get better on it. I promise you," Hatchell said. "We got to the line, but we've got to knock those down."
That gave Thomas a glimmer of hope. She hit a runner, two layups and three free throws before her late drive made it a two-point game.