GREENSBORO COLISEUM—North Carolina's players and coaches were not at a loss for quips moments after the Tar Heels saved the fortunes of themselves as well as all the ticket scalpers and concession stands in Greensboro by rallying from a 19-point deficit in the final 9:55 to defeat Miami-Florida 61-59. The comeback is believed to be the largest in any Tar Heel game since the 1993 home victory over Florida State.
Tyler Zeller scored Carolina's last eight points, including the game-winning layup at the buzzer on Kendall Marshall's dish.
"People always make fun of me for not dunking," said Zeller, "But it paid off on that possession. I had to shoot it as soon as possible."
Remarkably, Marshall said he glanced up at the clock as he was driving and saw he had enough time to dish it off. (Zeller gave Marshall all the credit for the play, saying all he had to do was make a layup.) Miami coach Frank Haith said he expected the play to run to Harrison Barnes, and Marshall said afterward he heard Roy Williams yelling at him but couldn't understand him. Apparently Roy was yelling "get it to H!"
Roy Williams confirmed: "The last play I was yelling at Kendall either go to [the basket] or go to Harrison. Players make plays, I'm just standing over there acting like I know what the crap I am doing here."
An interesting revelation on the true nature of coaching from the Hall of Famer, who also made a philosophically interesting distinction between a "panic mode" and a "crisis," saying that Carolina faced a crisis down 19 but did not panic.
In his third significant coaching move of the game, Williams employed a three-guard lineup during much of the comeback, which seemed to help in making the second key move—shifting to a half-court trapping defense—effective. Still, Miami had open shots resulting from the trapping tactics but could not knock them down to bury the Heels for good. Miami converted just one field goal in the final 9:55 while missing 12 field goal attempts as well as three key free throws.
The first coaching move—which will surely live in legend though it had minimal impact on the game—was Williams's decision to put in "Blue Steel," a team of five walk-ons, in the first half after UNC committed seven turnovers in the first seven minutes. The group played about a minute and half, getting one stop and committing one turnover while being outscored 2-0.
The gambit certainly got the crowd involved and may have helped get the starters' attention as they rallied to tie the score at 20, but a big Miami run to close the half gave the Hurricanes an 11-2 lead.
But going to Zeller at the end of the game was the right move. Carolina shot 7-12 from 3s in the second half, one of its hottest shooting stretches of the season, to get back into it, but having rolled the dice with the three-ball it made sense to turn to old reliable inside to close the game out. Zeller seemed to have more time and space in the final few minutes to make his post moves, and he converted as asked.
Consequently, Zeller became (probably—I'm not bothering to look this up) the first player to win the ACC's Scholar-Athlete Award and hit a game-winning shot on the same day.
When it was all over, a notably relieved Roy Williams said "I used my allotment of bad words for the month today."
Probably so did many of the Carolina fans watching this one.
In Game 2, Clemson rolled over Boston College and their mighty traveling support of 25 students on spring break. (I hope one of the locals had the kindness to direct them to Stamey's.)
Clemson has a good contingent of fans here, resolute in their determination not to miss the first time the Tigers win an ACC Tournament. The Tigerrs and Tar Heels play in the first semifinal tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Tonight, we've got another Triangle outfit in the house as Duke takes on Maryland, followed by Virginia Tech-Florida State. We'll be tweeting all night during those games, join us here at: