Lawson knocked down a career-high five 3-pointers on Sunday, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the second half. When Miami sharpshooter Jack McClinton showcased his talent by scoring 12 points in a 17-4 spurt that cut UNC’s 54-40 second-half lead to 58-57, Lawson rose to the occasion just as he did last Wednesday in scoring 21 of his 25 points after intermission against Duke.
This time, his heroics consisted of draining three 3-pointers in the final 3:35 of regulation, including a final dagger with 10.6 seconds left, increasing North Carolina’s lead to four points with each long-range bomb. The junior finalized the win with two free throws in the closing seconds.
“It’s just attacking more,” Lawson said in explaining his recent roll. “They say I’m the engine to the team. In the first half, we were playing and not doing too well, so in the second half I was looking for my shot a lot more and just getting other people involved.”
For the third time in four games in Florida, Lawson has broken the 20-point barrier, averaging 21.7 points in those three games while connecting on 62.9 percent of his field goal attempts (22-of-35). The odd game out in that rotation? Try the excruciating-to-watch ankle bend situation, courtesy of Florida State’s Ryan Reid, in Tallahassee last February.
But more importantly for Lawson – and his merry band of Tar Heels – is the fact that he drilled five of his eight 3-pointers on Sunday, boosting his season average beyond the arc to 49.4 percent on 38-of-77 shooting.
So what does the savvy point guard say to the offseason criticism lobbed his way about his lack of a perimeter shooting touch?
“I don’t say [anything] – I just prove them wrong and knock down threes,” said Lawson, who has been battling an illness since Thursday. “I just shoot the ball and keep playing my game.”
Head coach Roy Williams brushed off the notion that Lawson’s shooting ability has materialized out of thin air, saying only that his point guard’s touch has improved “just a little.”
“I really was on him all of the time to shoot the ball last year,” Williams said. “I thought he was a big-time shooter and he just didn’t look for it. I talked to him all season about not forgetting his outside shot, but he hasn’t forgotten it – thank goodness – this year.”
North Carolina (23-2, 9-2 ACC) needed every bit of Lawson’s firepower to provide a balance to McClinton’s lights-out display, scoring 23 of his game-high 35 points in the second half. The senior guard – who entered the game averaging 28.5 points against opponents that have held the No. 1 ranking this season – continued to make his case for ACC Player of the Year, drilling seven of his 12 3-point attempts.
“We were trying to guard him,” Williams said. “Again, we don’t have a lockdown defender on the perimeter. We had guys that were trying hard. We didn’t get him stopped. We wanted to hold down his percentage, and we didn’t even necessarily do that. But he did have to take 25 shots to get the 35 points.”
But as was the case in the first meeting between these two schools, the Baltimore, Md. product did not receive enough scoring help from his teammates to pull out the upset. Brian Asbury was the only Hurricane to score in double digits (12).
“I would rather score two points and win,” McClinton said.
The Hurricanes (15-9, 4-7 ACC) were intent on using their size and depth in the interior, despite not having Dwayne Collins available, to set a physical tone on Sunday, and the referees followed along for much of the evening, creating a contest that more resembled a game involving helmets and shoulder pads than shorts and jerseys. The two squads combined for just 20 fouls and 10 free-throw attempts.
Miami’s two shots from the charity stripe was its lowest amount in a home game since the 1985-86 season.
What resulted was a slugfest that relegated both teams to below 39 percent shooting for the evening, as North Carolina shot 38.8 percent (26-of-67) and Miami shot 38.2 percent (26-of-68). The Tar Heels used three runs of 7-0 or better to build a 29-26 halftime lead. Those 29 points were a season-low for UNC in a half, and its 69 points were also a season-low.
Wayne Ellington contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Ed Davis grabbed 11 rebounds in 21 minutes. Tyler Hansbrough was held to single digits (8) for the second time in six games, but the senior All-America came up with a crucial charge with 44.3 seconds remaining as Asbury drove to the basket with Miami trailing 64-63.
With Duke’s loss to Boston College on Sunday, North Carolina now holds a two-game advantage in the ACC with five games remaining.