Miami, Southern grad Julian Gamble too much for Heels
The last time North Carolina lost its first two conference games, it won the 2009 NCAA title. The last time UNC started 0-3 in the ACC, it made the 1997 Final Four.
That’s little consolation to this year’s group, which fell to Miami 66-57 Thursday night at the Smith Center and will struggle to even qualify for the tournament without a big turnaround.
“Needless to say it’s not a good feeling right now, it’s not a good feeling in that locker room,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “When you play basketball at North Carolina people expect a lot from you. I’ve got some really good kids that are hurting right now and they are also feeling a little stressed. There’s no question about that.”
UNC’s two leading scorers, James Michael McAdoo (14 points) and Reggie Bullock (11 points), combined to shoot 2 of 16 in the second half as the Tar Heels (10-5) suffered their first home loss of the season.
Miami (11-3) broke a 10-game losing streak against the Tar Heels — improving its record in the series to 3-18 — and won its first two ACC games for the first time since joining the league in ’04-’05.
Part of the reason was sixth-year senior Julian Gamble, a Southern High School graduate who was starting in place of center Reggie Johnson. Johnson averaged a double-double before breaking his thumb three weeks ago.
Gamble had 14 points (on 7-of-10 shooting), six rebounds and three blocks to ensure his final trip to the Smith Center was a success.
“Johnson is a tremendous inside presence,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “He’s a low post player, back to the basket guy, and he helps in a lot of different ways, but Julian has done an admirable job stepping up and defending, rebounding and scoring.
“That’s an outstanding performance, especially in a game like this where every possession counts.”
Fifth-year senior Kenny Kadji added 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, while senior point guard Durand Scott had 11 points, five assists and one turnover.
“Miami has four seniors starting,” Williams said. “One of them’s a fifth-year senior and one of them’s a sixth-year senior. The Smith Center and Carolina blue didn’t intimidate them at all.”
On the other hand, UNC’s lone senior, guard Dexter Strickland, recorded just one statistic on the scoresheet in 26 minutes — a long jump shot that he airballed in the first half.
Bullock and McAdoo both had a team-high six rebounds for UNC. Freshman Marcus Paige had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists and classmate Brice Johnson added 10 points in 18 minutes. Backup guard Leslie McDonald missed the game with a sore right knee.
Thursday night was reminiscent of Sunday’s defeat at Virginia, when the Tar Heels were down one with three minutes left before giving up 10 straight points. This time UNC was down one with five minutes left when Miami scored eight straight points to take control.
After P.J. Hairston’s 3-pointer brought UNC within 56-55 — the Tar Heels’ only points during a seven-minute stretch that started with 9:08 to go — Gamble rebounded his own miss on the next trip down the court to put Miami back up 3.
The Hurricanes then extended the lead with a pair of open 3s from the corner in front of the Miami bench — first by the aptly named Trey McKinney Jones, and then by Scott.
Now down 9, UNC had two opens 3-point looks of its own but Bullock and Hairston failed to connect, and by the time McAdoo scored on a putback to cut the deficit to 7, there was only 1:44 to play.
Freshman J.P. Tokoto (four steals) forced a pair of turnovers on Miami’s next two possessions to give the Tar Heels a chance, but Kenny Kadji blocked Hairston and Tokoto near the basket. McKinney Jones and Shane Larkin then made all four of their free throws in the final minute to ensure the win.
“Everyone’s stressed, just trying to figure out how we’re going to win games,” said Bullock, who called a players-only meeting after the Virginia loss. “But someway, somehow, real, real soon, we’ll turn it around and get it back on the right track.
“But everyone should be mad, because this is our team. We work hard in practice, and for us to keep coming up with losses, I think everyone should be mad.”
Miami 68, North Carolina 59
Percentages: FG .472, FT .692. 3-Point Goals: 9-26, .346 (Brown 3-8, Kadji 2-5, Scott 2-6, Larkin 1-3, McKinney Jones 1-4). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 8 (Kadji 4, Gamble 3, Akpejiori). Turnovers: 12 (McKinney Jones 5, Larkin 4, Brown, Gamble, Scott). Steals: 7 (Scott 3, Larkin 2, Gamble, McKinney Jones). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .400, FT .625. 3-Point Goals: 6-15, .400 (Bullock 3-8, Paige 2-3, Hairston 1-4). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 3 (Hubert, Johnson, Hairston). Turnovers: 11 (Bullock 4, Paige 3, Hairston 2, Johnson, McAdoo). Steals: 9 (Tokoto 4, Hairston 2, Johnson, Bullock, McAdoo). Technical Fouls: None.
A—20,516. Officials—Les Jones, Michael Stephens, Joe Lindsay.