CHAPEL HILL/SMITH CENTER — Finally, an exhale of relief. After struggling throughout ACC competition to string together two consecutive decent performances, North Carolina fought through its usual rough patches on Tuesday to defeat Miami 69-62 on senior night at the Smith Center.
The victory gave the program its 2,000th of all-time, second only to Kentucky.
Seniors Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson—two of the winningest players in program history—were able to receive a proper sendoff despite this unmitigated disaster of a season.
Carolina actually threatened to break the game open early, but inevitably the Tar Heels committed a rush of turnovers, finishing with 17 while compiling only 16 assists.
Still, beyond stats, the key to the win was the team’s resiliency to push back against the opponent’s big runs. The Heels were much looser tonight than they’ve been for most of the season, obviously benefiting from a confidence standpoint thanks to the win at Wake Forest last weekend.
After an extremely disappointing year on the whole, Ginyard enjoyed an outstanding game in his ostensible final appearance at the Dean Dome. (I say ostensible because it’s entirely possible Carolina could play another home game or two while participating in the postseason NIT.)
After the Wake game Roy Williams noted that Ginyard looked like the player of old, so one could argue that he looked “older” against the Hurricanes. Ginyard put together the kind of line everyone hoped he would all season: 12 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
Meanwhile, despite straining his back, Thompson scored 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting while adding a block and steal with no turnovers.
Casting an eye toward the future, freshman John Henson quickly is becoming a crowd—and head coach—favorite. The stringbean big man went for seven points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, the swats enabling the Tar Heels to get into their transition game and providing them with a hefty dose of energy.
Point guard Larry Drew appears to be gaining confidence despite struggling with his shot. He hit just 2-for-7 from the field but was able to get the Heels into their offensive attack and dished out seven assists against just two turnovers. That’s the kind of ball control and offensive facilitation Carolina needs now and will require next season in order to become a top-15 type team.
That said, the Tar Heels shot a woeful 40 percent from the field. Solid team defense provided the winning margin, as UNC held Miami to just 35 percent shooting.
Roy Williams said in the preseason that a key component of this team’s identity would its defense, and finally the Heels appear to be grasping that aspect of the game.
Under the circumstances, Carolina couldn’t ask for a better setup heading into Duke on Saturday night. The Heels will travel to Cameron as a heavy underdog, but at least now they possess a sense of self-belief.
To see the UNC/Miami box score, click here.