North Carolina (22-4, 9-2 ACC) opened up an early 6-2 lead, but Miami (15-9, 6-5 ACC) responded with 16-7 run to grab control of the game. The Hurricanes extended its lead to 31-22 before UNC cut its deficit to 35-30 at halftime.
Miami increased its lead to 44-36 with 15:37 to play, but the Tar Heels answered with a 24-9 spurt to flip momentum. UNC led by as many as 11 points late in the game.
Barnes’s 23-point effort marks his 10th 20-point game of the season. John Henson posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Reggie Bullock added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Durand Scott paced Miami with 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Kenny Kadji scored 13 points and Reggie Johnson and Trey McKinney Jones both added 11 for the Hurricanes.
North Carolina shot 38.2 percent (26-of-68) from the floor, while holding Miami to 39.1 percent (25-of-64). The Tar Heels won the rebounding battle, 46-40.
UNC head coach Roy Williams notched his 100th ACC win, needing just 139 games to accomplish that feat, second-fastest in league history behind Duke’s Vic Bubas (128).
INSIDE THE GAME
Warming Up Just Enough From Deep
As North Carolina emerged from the first media timeout of the second half with 15:22 remaining, it’s recent 3-point history looked embarrassingly bad. Over the previous 113 minutes and 36 seconds – just shy of three full ball games – UNC had missed 25 of its 27 3-point field goal attempts.
A Barnes trey four seconds into that next possession somehow pried the lid from the basket just enough to allow the Tar Heels to heat up and overcome their eight-point deficit with a 5-of-10 flurry from long range to close the game. Barnes knocked down three of his five 3-pointers while Bullock connected on two of his four attempts.
Barnes attributed the turnaround to strong words by his head coach during intermission that “got underneath [his] skin a little bit.”
“I can’t necessarily say what was said during halftime, but he definitely tried to motivate us and it worked,” Barnes said.
Williams’s postgame comments provided enough dots to draw the locker room picture.
“Kids have to step up and make shots,” Williams said. “I got mad and screamed at P.J. [Hairston] one time, ‘Make a dadgum shot.’ It’s a pretty easy game. If you’re a great shooter, you ought to be able to shoot the ball in the game, in practice and out in the backyard when the wind’s blowing.”
Tyler Zeller and Henson were held to a combined five points on 2-of-8 shooting in the second half, thanks to Miami’s decision to collapse on the interior and force the Tar Heels to beat them from the perimeter. Fortunately for UNC, Barnes and Bullock were up to the challenge, but improvement is still a must moving forward.
“I’ve said for 24 years as a head coach that I like to have good balance and we need to make some 3-point shots,” Williams said. “We haven’t done that recently, but when it starts going in, I think we’ll really be good.”
While fans and pundits have found a variety of ways to criticize this North Carolina team in recent weeks, one critical evolution has gone virtually noticed – the Tar Heels have rediscovered their ability to grind out victories.
Previous seasons fade away and often are remembered solely on win-loss record and the final destination, but the 2010-11 UNC squad based its late-season run on gritty performances that included claw marks and bruises. That Tar Heel edition won five games in which it trailed by 10 points or more against ACC competition, including four second-half double-digit deficits.
For the third time in its last four road games, the current North Carolina team has overcome a second-half deficit of eight points or more to secure a victory. The link between the two seasons has been clear – defense. UNC’s last four road opponents have combined to shoot 35.0 percent (41-of-117) in the second half.
Once Miami took a 44-36 lead with 15:37 to play, UNC forced five turnovers and allowed just one field goal over the next 4:17 to take a 51-48 lead.
“It reminds me a lot of last year’s team, just the deficit’s not as bad,” Barnes said. “I think we just do a good job of fighting through it and getting stops when we need to, and I think we’re getting better at executing in late-game situations.”
North Carolina is now 4-1 this season when trailing at the half and 3-1 when shooting below 40 percent.
Failure to Capitalize Early
Miami’s fortunes have turned around since Johnson returned to the lineup in December as the team has improved its field goal shooting by more than six percentage points. Considering that fact, the Tar Heels did exactly what they needed to do early in getting the Winston-Salem, N.C. native in foul trouble.
North Carolina led 6-2 when Johnson picked up his second foul at the 16:26 mark of the first half, but UNC failed to assert control once the 6-foot-10, 284-pounder went to the bench. The Hurricanes promptly outscored the Tar Heels 14-6 and when Johnson returned more than seven minutes later, Miami held a 21-17 lead.
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