TV/ FOX NET—North Carolina had built-in excuses at their disposal heading into their game at Miami on Sunday night. The Heels had beaten hated rival Duke in Durham on Wednesday in a game that required full emotional investment, and star guard Ty Lawson had fallen ill and was running at far less than full speed when UNC invaded Coral Gables to battle Miami.
And that made the club's 69-65 victory all the more meaningful.
For their part, the Hurricanes entered the game desperately needing a marquee victory to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and a boisterous crowd turned out to support a team that typically gets tepid local support.
The Heels walked into a scenario where a loss would have been understandable, but they prevailed by virtue of willpower in an uncharacteristic grind-it-out affair that wasn't settled until the closing seconds.
In many respects, it was a weird game. Miami was able to control tempo and hold a team that scored 101 points against Duke to only 69. The Canes accomplished that feat — and many teams have tried it and failed — by packing in a zone and daring Carolina to shoot threes.
That strategy nearly worked. UNC was unable to find Tyler Hansbrough inside and, due in part to Lawson's poor health, couldn't muster much transition offense. That forced Roy Williams' club to become a three-point shooting outfit, something he ordinarily dislikes as an approach to offense.
Carolina shot just eight free throws and Miami only two, yet the game nevertheless was very physical. More fouls weren't called because both teams launched so many jump shots, a scenario much more to Miami's liking than to their more touted opposition.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, however, they shot 40 percent on three-point attempts, and it was three long bombs by Lawson that enabled Carolina to overcome an eye-popping 35 points from ace Miami shooter Jack McClinton.
Lawson totaled 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting and 5-for-8 on threes, numbers that followed a terrific performance against Duke and earned him ACC player of the week honors.
Hansbrough finished with just eight points and four rebounds, while Danny Green went for only eight points himself. That duo combined for just 29 percent shooting from the field. Wayne Ellington didn't shoot the ball especially well, either, but he persevered to the tune of 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Ranked No. 3 in both the coaches' and AP polls, Carolina now ranks No. 1 in the more significant Pomeroy rankings that have proved to be a more accurate predictor of actual performance. On that list, the Heels now boast the nation's No. 2 offense and are No. 14 on defense, a substantial improvement over the past couple weeks.
Carolina next hosts N.C. State on Wednesday night. Among the possible intrigue heading into that game is whether freshman Tyler Zeller will begin his journey toward rejoining the team on the court. Williams said on Monday that a decision on Zeller — who broke his wrist against Kentucky back in November — would be made this week whether he would return to action or sit out the rest of the season and apply for a medical redshirt.
To see the UNC/Miami box score, click here.