HEELS SLIP AGAIN
After a frustrating offseason featuring the ongoing saga of P.J. Hairston, who was eventually dismissed from the team, and Leslie McDonald, who received a nine-game suspension, North Carolina coach Roy Williams might have thought the regular season would bring some relief.
Instead, it has made Williams feel even worse.
The Tar Heels shot 30.8 percent from the field Wednesday night — their worst shooting night in a conference home game under Williams — and fell to 0-2 in the ACC with a 63-57 loss to Miami.
“I do feel mentally, probably, worse than I’ve ever felt as a head coach right now,” Williams said. “I’ve got good kids, and I’ve got to do a better job with them.”
It was the second straight year that Miami (9-6, 1-2 ACC) came into the Smith Center and handed UNC its second straight loss to open conference play. But the Hurricanes lost their top six players from last year’s ACC championship run, making UNC (10-5, 0-2) a heavy favorite on Wednesday.
But that’s a role that the Tar Heels have struggled with this season. Though the team has three wins over teams currently ranked in the top 15, it also has five losses to unranked teams — including three at home.
“When you go to school here and you come back as an assistant and you come back and coach here it’s a feeling of ownership and it’s a feeling of pride and right now I’m not doing a very good job with the basketball team,” Williams said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say.”
Junior forward James Michael McAdoo had 12 points and 12 rebounds, but on one else on the Tar Heels topped eight points.
Leading scorer Marcus Paige, who was coming off his first single-digit performance of the season in Sunday’s loss at Wake Forest, had eight assists but finished 2 of 15 from the field, including 2 of 11 from behind the arc. The team’s other top outside shooter, Leslie McDonald, was 3 of 12 from the field as UNC scored a season-low 57 points.
Led by Joel James, who was playing for the first time since spraining his MCL on Dec. 18, the Tar Heels actually scored the first eight points of the game. James was back in the starting lineup — he has started all 11 games when he’s been healthy — and had four points and four rebounds in the first four minutes.
But after the Tar Heels made three of their first five shots, they made just five of their last 22 before halfime and had their lowest-scoring half of the season.
After UNC’s 8-0 start, Miami answered with 10 straight points. The Hurricanes led by as many as seven after the Tar Heels made just one field goal during a nine-minute stretch in the first half — a long jumper by Nate Britt.
UNC got back within 26-23 on a 3-pointer by McDonald with 27 seconds left, but Apex native Garrius Adams rattled in a 3 at the buzzer to give Miami a 29-23 halftime lead.
The low-scoring pace was customary for the Hurricanes, who give up fewer than 60 points a game and were coming off a 49-44 loss at No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday.
The second half started much the same way for UNC until J.P. Tokoto fired up the crowd with a highlight-reel dunk, converting a steal by McAdoo into a left-handed slam in transition over James Kelly.
A turnaround by Brice Johnson on the next possession brought UNC within two, but Miami then scored on its next six possessions, putting together 11 straight points — including back-to-back dunks by Erik Swoope.
McDonald finally ended Miami’s run with a 3-pointer with 9:44 left, starting a run of eight straight points for UNC.
The Tar Heels twice got within four, but both times Miami got an easy basket against UNC’s pressure. First 7-footer Tonye Jekiri dunked against the trap on an assist from Adams, and then Swoope converted a 3-point play after Miami broke UNC’s fullcourt defense. Another 3-point play by Swoope put the Hurricanes up by 10 with 2:40 left.
UNC had time for one final push. Tokoto made his fifth 3 of the season and McAdoo followed with a 3-point play, making it a 5-point game with 52 seconds left, but Brown got behind the defense on the inbounds pass for a lay-up.
Tokoto had one last chance to cut the lead to 2 with 12 seconds left, but his 3-point attempt hit the rim and bounced over the backboard.
James had been ejected for a flagrant foul early in the second half, his hot start long forgotten and a shocked look on his face as he was escorted to the locker room. His equally shocked and frustrated teammates and coaches would soon join him.
|MIAMI 63, NORTH CAROLINA 57|
Percentages: FG .420, FT .615.
3-Point Goals: 5-17, .294 (Brown 2-6, Lecomte 1-1, Kirk 1-3, Adams 1-4, Reed 0-1, Kelly 0-1, Swoope 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 7 (Jekiri 3, Brown, Kelly, Kirk, Swoope).
Turnovers: 13 (Adams 3, Jekiri 3, Lecomte 2, Swoope 2, Reed 2, Brown).
Steals: 7 (Adams 2, Swoope 2, Jekiri 2, Kelly).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .308, FT .600.
3-Point Goals: 5-21, .238 (McDonald 2-7, Paige 2-11, Tokoto 1-2, Hicks 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Johnson, Meeks, Tokoto).
Turnovers: 11 (Britt 3, Paige 2, James, Meeks, Johnson, Tokoto, McDonald, McAdoo).
Steals: 6 (McAdoo 2, Hicks, Britt, McDonald, Johnson).
Technical Fouls: James.
Officials_Brian Kersey, Brian Dorsey, Gary Maxwell.