ACC Basketball

North Carolina Gets Defensive In South Beach

Melina Vastola / USA TODAY Sports

WHAT JUST HAPPENED:

Playing without Angel Rodriguez (held to three minutes with a wrist injury he suffered in the Florida State game Wednesday), the Miami Hurricanes actually held tough, not letting a Tar Heels, with their backs against the wall, to pull away. When North Carolina opened up a eight-point lead early, Miami got it back to one. When a small UNC run opened it up back to six, the Hurricanes defense stiffened and they finished the half down just 32-30.

In the second, nothing changed early on. Carolina again opened up a six-point cushion, until Miami clawed back in at the 12-minute mark when Ivan Cruz Uceda nailed back-to-back threes and gave Miami a 48-47 lead. Yet, instead of falling apart, that’s when North Carolina finally decided to turn up the heat, first by hitting their own pair of threes that sparked a 18-6 run that the Hurricanes were never able to recover from, eventually falling 73-64.

FOUR DEEP THOUGHTS

  • While they struggled for stretches in the first half, this was one of North Carolina’s better defensive efforts. Miami shot just 42% from the floor and during a large stretch to end the first and most of the second, the Hurricanes hit just 9-for-30 while the Tar Heels pulled away late. The guards protected the three-point line better than they have in a while, allowing the Canes to hit just 6-23, but three of those came from big man Ian Cruz Uceda, so Paige, Tokoto and company did even better than the stat line shows.
  • Kennedy Meeks was clearly bothered with Miami’s size, as he was often facing the much longer Tonye Jekiri (who I felt got away with a lot of¬†lateral arm barring). The sophomore hit just two buckets and scored four points. However, Marcus Paige actually played a good game, especially in the second where he nailed some big shots (including the one that erased Miami’s only lead in the second half). He finished with 17 (on 12 shots), but he looked confident, turning it over just once, hitting three 3’s.
  • Overall, I wouldn’t argue that North Carolina play more physical than Miami (although the 42-28 rebounding difference might argue against that), but instead they played above the Hurricanes. When you watched Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto and Justin Jackson you were watching the three best athletes on the floor and all three were on the same team. They didn’t pound for those boards, they out-jumped for them. On offense, they didn’t outrun their defenders, but simply skied over them or around them. The Hurricanes had no answers for Brice Johnson. Their power forwards were too bulky and slow to handle him one-on-one facing the basket. Go small and he’d just put his back to the basket. Johnson finished with 22, on 11-for-15 shooting. Tokoto missed seven of 10 shots, but his three makes were impressive and he was solid on the boards (1o rebounds), sharing (six assists) and defensively (four steals).
  • With Rodriguez unable to play, Manu Lecomte played decent enough. He ran some nice set plays early in the game and tried to get his teammates involved. However, once Sheldon McClellan got into foul trouble, the Canes just didn’t seem to know what to do, were never able to attack the Tar Heels and started to turn the ball over. You can say what you want about Rodriguez’s poor shooting, he did know how to put pressure on a defense.
  • In the first half, Sheldon McClellan looked like he was willing to take on the alpha dog role. He hit three of five, scoring nine points. However, he was hampered by foul trouble early in the second, sat and when he came back was never able to get into the flow. He hit just 1-5 in the second and most of that came with the game decided.

RANDOM NOT-SO-DEEP THOUGHTS

  • North Carolina earned its 20th win of the season, the 11th time in 12 seasons they’ve done that for Roy Williams.
  • Why do all of Miami’s big men what to be guards? If it’s not Omar Sherman, it’s Ivan Cruz Uceda (he took seven 3’s). Tonye Jekiri is a solid guy in the middle (seven rebounds against UNC), but he can’t do it alone.
  • I like freshman Ja-Quan Newton. Miami doesn’t play him much, at least not lately, but with Angel out, he got some minutes and delivered 10 points. Not bad.

FINAL THOUGHT:
North Carolina improves to 20-9 on the year, 10-6 in the ACC, although this is just their third win in the last eight games and none of those wins have come against a team in the top-50 (Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami, Fl). Yet a win is a win and this keeps them in fifth place in the ACC, as they continue to fight for a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, I don’t think Miami is going. First, they would need to win their final two and then need to reach the ACC Tournament final just to be in the conversation and let’s face it, I don’t think this team beats Pittsburgh next week on the road.

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