Sometimes it takes a big loss like the one North Carolina suffered last week to Louisville to wake a team up.
In UNC’s game on Saturday against Miami, the Tar Heels appeared wide awake. The Tar Heels shot 55 percent from the floor, its first time shooting better than 50 percent in a game since its 103-90 win over Gonzaga on Dec. 15.
UNC graduate senior Cam Johnson, who had not made a 3-pointer in his last two games, hit five 3-pointers, and helped UNC defeat Miami 85-76.
It was a huge game for Johnson, who had struggled shooting from the floor in recent games. He finished with 22 points and was 5-for-7 from behind the 3-point line. Two of his 3-pointers came after Miami had cut UNC’s lead to one point.
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“I thought those were huge shots for us,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Cam’s a really good shooter. We needed those baskets. He doesn’t make those, then all of a sudden the crowd gets into it more and more.”
UNC senior guard Kenny Williams had 16 points and 7 assists. He, too, had two clutch 3’s in the game’s final five minutes that helped extend the Tar Heels’ lead late whenever the Hurricanes got close.
The 13th-ranked Tar Heels (14-4, 4-1 ACC) are now 3-0 in ACC road games, and 4-1 overall in ACC play. If Virginia were to lose to Duke later Saturday, the Tar Heels would be tied for first place in the conference.
After the 21-point home loss to Louisville last week, the Tar Heels knew they had to respond. They beat Notre Dame at home by six points on Tuesday, and responded again against Miami.
Miami (9-8, 1-4 ACC) has struggled in ACC play this season, but played well against the Tar Heels. The game was close throughout the first half and for much of the second. There were 10 lead changes, and the game was tied at 37 at halftime. The biggest lead for either team in the first half was by five points.
The Tar Heels had shot much better than the Hurricanes before halftime, but they committed nine turnovers, a problem that has persisted all season. UNC freshman guard Coby White, who finished with 15 points, had three turnovers in the first half. But he took much better care of the basketball in the second half, and did not commit another turnover. He also had eight assists.
Guarding Miami point guard Chris Lykes was also concern for the Tar Heels heading into the game. The lightning fast, 5-7, 157-pound guard is the ACC’s seventh leading scorer. Lykes, who scored 20 points, drove past defenders on his way to the basket and hit open 3-pointers off the dribble.
Lykes brought Miami to within one point with about seven minutes remaining after driving past Johnson. But Johnson answered with a 3-pointer to put the Tar Heels back up by four points.
Miami’s Ebuka Izundu answered with a layup and a foul to bring the Hurricanes within one point again. Then Johnson hit another one to put the Tar Heels back up by four with 5:54 remaining.
“I was feeling pretty good at that moment, so when I catch it in rhythm I’m going to let it go,” Johnson said. “My teammates got me good looks and I just had to do the easy part.”
The Tar Heels hit six of their last eight shots and the Hurricanes could not catch back up.