Just four days shy of the Dean E. Smith Center’s 20th anniversary, and following impressive conference victories over N.C. State and Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels (10-3, 2-1 ACC) turned in a performance that would have hardly made the old building’s namesake proud.
“It was a very, very disappointing afternoon,” an exasperated Roy Williams said following the game.
UNC made just 40 percent of its shots – a mere three points off its season-low 37 percent at Southern Cal last month.
Carolina committed 17 turnovers – eight less than on Tuesday versus the Hokies, but three in a row at one crucial juncture late in this game.
The Tar Heels were out-rebounded by Miami 43-34. But even worse, 21 of the Hurricanes’ boards were on the offensive end, including five on a single second half possession.
And down the stretch, the poise Carolina demonstrated in games the previous week had disappeared.
“It was a total breakdown of what we like to think we practice every day,” Williams said. “We didn’t guard people off the bounce. We didn’t rebound the basketball, didn’t keep them off the offensive boards and we didn’t stop them from penetrating the ball to the basket. When we did get open shots, we didn’t make them.”
On the bright side, Tyler Hansbrough led all scorers with 25 points, his fourth 20-plus outing in a row and sixth of the season. Perpetually hounded in the paint and thus a frequent visitor to the charity stripe, he converted 13-of-14 free throws and has now made 35 of his last 37 from the charity stripe.
“Tyler had 25 points but for the most part I thought our guys did a pretty good job in the paint and we did a pretty good job only limiting them to one shot,” UM coach Frank Haith said.
And as the clock wound down, Miami made it even tougher for Hansbrough’s teammates to get him the ball.
“My movement wasn’t as good as it should have been,” said a somber Hansbrough after the loss. “It was physical down there. My body is pretty bruised up.”
Reyshawn Terry added 18 points as the only other Tar Heel in double figures. He fouled out with 15 seconds left -- only the second time a Carolina player has been disqualified this year (David Noel vs. Illinois).
“We just have to put this behind us,” said Noel, who finished with seven points and 10 rebounds. “We have to understand the bad things that happened in this game, turn away from it and keep our heads high.”
With the score tied 62-62, UM’s Anthony Harris hit a three-pointer with 3:47 left. After a Carolina turnover, Robert Hite added two free throws following a backcourt foul by Bobby Frasor. Another Carolina turnover gave it back to the Hurricanes. A free throw later by Miami center Gary Hamilton and the Hurricanes led 68-62 with 2:25 to play.
Then on the Tar Heels’ ensuing possession, Terry’s pass inside got away from Hansbrough for a third straight UNC turnover. And Guillermo Diaz made them pay with a 25-foot jumper to give Miami its largest lead of the game, 71-62, with 1:39 on the clock.
Finally UNC was able to get the ball into Hansbrough, who broke Carolina’s scoring drought with an old-fashioned three. But Diaz added two more free throws to extend the Hurricanes’ lead back to eight points.
While UM’s guard triumvirate of Hite (24 points), Diaz (24) and Harris (17) took care of the scoring, Hamilton and Anthony King combined for 15 rebounds, three blocks and five steals.
“Offensively, they definitely impressed me,” Frasor said of the Hurricanes’ guard play. “They were three of the quickest guys I’ve seen.”
Miami repelled several UNC threats to lead most of the first half. But despite suffering through 33 percent field goal shooting – its second worst shooting half of the season – Carolina managed to go to the locker room with a 31-30 halftime lead.
After the Tar Heels extended their lead to eight points right after intermission, a 12-0 Miami run put the Hurricanes back up 44-39 just five minutes into the second half.
The teams continued to pass the lead back and forth.
After a basket by Terry, Hansbrough connected on two free throws following an intentional foul called against Hamilton to make it 62-59 Carolina at the 5:49 mark.
But once again, the Tar Heels couldn’t put the Hurricanes away. And when Danny Green fouled a three-point shooter, Hite tied the score again with three free throws and UNC would never lead again.
Carolina doesn’t play again until Thursday at Virginia (7-6, 1-2). Tip-off is at 7 p.m. for the nationally televised contest on ESPN.
“I think we’re going to have some really hard practices and really get after it,” Hansbrough said. “We just need to focus on the next step and win our next game.”