In a fitting tribute full of electrifying fast breaks and aerial dunking displays, UNC easily won its 200th game in the 18-year-old building named after the program’s legendary patriarch.
The Tar Heels (9-2) exacted a measure of payback for last season’s 64-61 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Coral Gables. But more importantly, following Saturday’s disappointing loss at No. 8 Kentucky, UNC returned to the form representative of a team that has been ranked in or around the Top 10 all season.
“Needless to say this feels better than the game in Lexington,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We didn’t play our best game, but Miami bothered us with their athletic ability.”
The Tar Heels scored 26 points in transition and 18 points off turnovers.
“We wanted to force some turnovers and get our break going,” Williams said. “We didn’t want to play scramble on every possession, because I think teams get used to it. We tried to mix it up and vary it so they didn’t know exactly when it was coming. You have heard me complain about our defense, but I thought our defense was much better tonight.”
Sean May was as nimble running the floor as he has been in weeks, scoring 17 of his 23 points in the first half to go with 16 rebounds, three steals and two blocks for the game.
“I thought it was going to get ugly at first - I was like 0-for-4 - but Coach told me to find something positive out of it,” May said. “Once I hit my first free throw and Rashad [McCants] hit me for an easy layup, I was really excited and got something going - it was a good night. I needed this game confidence-wise. I haven’t played well the last four or five games.”
“May is the best low-post scorer in the country,” Miami coach Perry Clark added.
Jawad Williams showed no lingering effects of a concussion he suffered against UNC-Wilmington, adding 15 points and McCants rebounded with 15 points as well.
Against the Wildcats, May, McCants and Williams combined for just 15 points, suffering through a 6-of-23 shooting night.
“We played bad our last game and we wanted to get out there and do the things we know we can do,” McCants said. “It's very important after any loss to bounce back and use it as a springboard to get better as a team.”
Jackie Manuel did what he does best - forcing turnovers and being around the basket at the right time. He finished with 15 points, including an emphatic slam and his first 3-point basket of the season.
“I told him I still didn’t want him shooting 3-point shots, but after he had played as well as he had and gotten a good dunk - that excited me - so I didn’t mind him taking it and I really didn’t mind him taking it when it went in,” Williams said.
“More than anybody else on the team, Jackie Manuel has bought into what makes North Carolina’s team do well. He tries to do everything that he’s asked to do. When he does make a mistake, its because he’s trying to do to much. It’s never a failure of omission.”
On the other end of the floor, the Tar Heels’ defense held 6-foot-10 UM forward Darius Rice - who lit UNC up for 25 points a year ago - to seven points on 2-of-8 shooting.
“They just physically manhandled us,” Clark said. “We were a little out of synch and we just didn’t make good decisions. They just got after [Rice]. They challenged him on every shot. He had seven turnovers and did not have a great night for us. He’s got to learn that people are going to work to take him away from his game.”
After a slow start to the game, the Tar Heels got their fast break in gear and ran off 10-straight points during a 1:51 span. Carolina then surged again just before halftime, when a May steal and dunk gave UNC its biggest lead before the half at 42-29.
The Hurricanes (10-4) trimmed the lead back to 10 points midway through the second half, but by the 8:49 mark, Carolina led by 23 points and the rout was on.
“In the first part of the game, I think our guys were really tight,” Williams said. “Around here when you lose a game, people think it’s about the end of the world. Players start feeling stress and more pressure because the expectations and standards. After we settled down a little bit, we got the ball inside to Sean for some really good looks and his 23-and-16 looks not only good from his standpoint, but also for how the players got him the ball.”
The Tar Heels go for their first conference win Sunday night at 8 p.m. when they host Georgia Tech.
“We had two hard losses against Kentucky and Wake Forest, that I thought we should have won, but we just have to bounce back,” Raymond Felton said. “Tonight was a good test against a great team. We just have to practice hard these next few days and get ready for Tech.”