North Carolina fell behind by as many as 11 in the first half before Miami took a 31-22 lead into the break. The Hurricanes opened the second stanza with a 20-10 spurt to build a 53-34 margin with 9:55 to play, and that’s when the UNC comeback got underway.
The 19-point second-half deficit is the largest that North Carolina has overcome since trailing Florida State by 21 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 27, 1993. Friday’s win marked the fourth time this season that UNC has won a ACC game after trailing by 10 points or more.
Harrison Barnes led North Carolina with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting (4-of-10 on 3-pointers) and Zeller scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. John Henson posted a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds and Leslie McDonald added 11 points with three 3-pointers. Marshall scored six points to go along with 10 assists, four rebounds and four turnovers.
Malcolm Grant paced Miami with 16 points and five assists, while Durand Scott, Adrian Thomas and Reggie Johnson all scored 12 points.
North Carolina shot 44.0 percent (22-of-50) from the floor and held the Hurricanes to 36.7 percent shooting (22-of-60). The Tar Heels outrebounded Miami, 39-31, and also committed their most turnovers (20) since the Vanderbilt loss in Puerto Rico (22).
The win over Miami avoided UNC’s first-ever three-game losing streak in ACC Tournament history.
INSIDE THE GAME
Breaking Down the Run
When Malcolm Grant found Reggie Johnson for a lay-up with 9:55 left in regulation, North Carolina found itself down 19 points at 53-34. What followed was the greatest postseason comeback in Tar Heel basketball history.
UNC closed the game on a 27-6 run behind a lethal combination of defensive tenacity and white-hot shooting from beyond the arc.
The Hurricanes had shot 44.7 percent from the floor to that point, including a 42.9 mark (9-of-21) from long range. But Williams switched things up defensively by utilizing halfcourt traps that flustered Haith’s squad. The move paid off as the Hurricanes committed four turnovers down the stretch and missed 12 of their final 13 shots, including their last five 3-pointers. Miami also missed three of its final four free throw attempts.
McDonald ignited UNC’s run with a 3-pointer just five seconds after Johnson’s lay-up. The Tar Heels knocked down five of their next six 3-pointers to go along with a Henson dunk to cut Miami’s lead to 55-51 with 5:13 remaining.
North Carolina connected on 11 of its final 17 field goal attempts (5-of-8 on 3-pointers), including a 9-of-11 stretch to start the run. The Tar Heels scored those 11 field goals on 10 assists, while only committing three turnovers.
While Zeller scored eight points in the final 3:54, including the game-winner, Marshall’s performance stood out. The freshman point guard scored six points on two 3-pointers, handed out seven assists and grabbed two rebounds. His final drive and dish to Zeller was just another clutch play for a team that has made several during the ACC season.
“I’ve got to give all of the credit to Kendall, because I didn’t do anything but stand there and shoot a lay-up,” Zeller said. “He’s the one that made the play and drew my man over. He’s the one that gets all of the credit for it.”
McDonald pointed to determination as the reason UNC prevailed on Friday. Barnes elected to go with defense as his choice and Williams made sure to throw in a little luck as well. Add in North Carolina’s 45.5 shooting display from 3-point territory – easily the best percentage of the season – and you arrive at a complete team effort built with talent and experience.
“It reminded me a lot of the first six ACC games,” Barnes said. “We were down every game – Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson – all of those games we were down and had to fight back. Today was just one of those experiences where even though we were down, we knew we could fight back and win this game.”
A Return to Ugly
In its final two regular season games against the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the ACC Tournament, North Carolina knocked down 50 percent of its field goal attempts (59-of-118) while holding Duke and Florida State to a combined 41.8 percent (51-of-122).
Those performances seemed to confirm the news that the Tar Heels had finally arrived and those ugly wins in January and February would remain in the past. But Friday didn’t start out that way. Miami’s matchup zone frustrated North Carolina into shooting 33.3 percent (11-of-33) and committing 17 turnovers through the first 30 minutes of action.
“It’s not a normal zone – it’s a matchup zone,” Zeller said. “The flashes aren’t as open just because they’re trailing you. They do a great job of packing it in and trying to take away the inside. I think when we went with four guards, we stretched the defense and I was able to get a little one-on-one inside.”
Barnes was the lone Tar Heel with more than one made field goal until Henson’s dunk at the 11:26 mark of the second half.
Flashing the Blue Steel Signal
There has been plenty of talk this week debating whether or not North Carolina was ready to step into the new role of favorite at the ACC Tournament. It took less than eight minutes against Miami for that question to be answered with a resounding “no.”
Miami built an early 13-8 lead not on hot shooting, but on nine North Carolina turnovers in the first seven minutes and 45 seconds. The Tar Heels entered the postseason averaging just 12.1 turnovers per ACC contest, so Williams subbed in the Blue Steel walk-on crew at the 12:15 mark to send a message.
“I cannot describe what I said because I have no idea,” Williams said. “I did check my pulse and it was solid. It wasn’t going ‘beep… beep… beep,’ it was just beeping all the frickin’ time. It worked to the extent that I think it challenged our guys and told them that I wasn’t going to sit there…
“You can send messages, but if you send messages, people have to receive it. And our guys received it; it just took a lot longer to settle in.”
Miami was only able to score two points on the walk-ons by the time the UNC starters returned at the 10:38 mark, but the drastic measure failed to produce the desired immediate effect. The Tar Heels committed five more errors in addition to a Stewart Cooper walk to post the most turnovers in a half all season with 15.