Led by Tyler Hansbrough’s 25 points, UNC (15-6, 6-4 ACC) pulled to just one game in the loss column of second place N.C. State, which fell to Georgia Tech.
Miami’s talented guard trio of Robert Hite, Guillermo Diaz and Anthony Harris managed to combine for 47 points, but it was 18 less than in the two teams’ previous meeting, thanks to stiff man-to-man defense by the Tar Heels.
“We knew we had to play better defense and control their offense,” said Reyshawn Terry, who finished with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting. “We needed to make our shots and everything seemed to work out today. It started on the defensive end, but we had to knock down shots.”
Closer to home it might seem difficult to imagine a relatively new ACC basketball arena designed to hold just 7,000, as is the case with the BankUnited Center – formerly known as Miami’s Convocation Center.
And with UNC’s national appeal, a Carolina basket brought nearly as much of a crowd response as one from the home team.
Perhaps that’s another reason the Tar Heels were able to perform much better this time around than in their 81-70 loss to Miami in Chapel Hill last month. In the first meeting, the Hurricanes were able to repel each and every UNC comeback threat down the stretch.
But this time the shoe was on the other foot. Or, in Hite’s case, you might say the sleeve was on the other arm; as UM shot 49 percent from the floor, but went just 4-for-18 from beyond the arc.
“At the game at our place, we have a wide-open three and we miss it,” Roy Williams said. “Then we go to the other end and guard like crazy for 30 seconds, and Guillermo jumps up from the top of key with a man in his face and hits the three. Sometimes talent takes over and that’s what happened today. It sure as crap wasn’t coaching.”
Of equal importance to the final outcome was Hansbrough’s unflappable skill and grit, in starting the game 6-of-7 from the floor. He even played peacemaker in coming between Diaz and teammate Michael Copeland heading into halftime – the replay of which was displayed on ESPN over and over into the night. Once Hansbrough established himself in the paint, the Tar Heels were able to get good looks from the outside as they converted field goals at a 55 percent clip.
“I don’t know if it was [the most physical game I’ve been involved in this year], but it was physical,” Hansbrough said.
After committing a whopping 66 turnovers in its last three games, UNC handed out just 13 miscues on the night, including just two from its guards.
Carolina, which leads the league in rebounds per game and rebounding margin, enjoyed another triumphant night on the boards as well, out battling the ‘Canes for 33-22 advantage.
UNC will begin the week in sole-possession of the ACC’s fourth spot, just one-half game behind Boston College, and will prepare to host the Yellow Jackets on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Meanwhile Miami (14-10, 6-5), losers of two in a row at home, slipped into a tie with Virginia for fifth.
“We’re as happy as we can be,” Williams said. “We’re going to get something to eat as quickly as we can and get out of town as quickly as we can.”