The Miami Hurricanes made it a game the first five minutes of regulation, going toe-to-toe with North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Eight minutes later, a 13-3 Tar Heels run blew things open. The Canes were down nine at intermission and outscored by 16 in the second half en route to a 25-point loss, falling 96-71 in a crucial Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
In a season where Miami’s lack-of-road-toughness has been a concern, this beat down couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Canes host Virginia and Louisville, while traveling to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech to close out things out before tourney-time.
A mid-week victory over the Hokies, combined with North Carolina’s home loss to Duke, added some extra hype to Saturday’s nationally televised showdown—the Canes and Tar Heels both atop the conference standings and battling for supremacy.
Miami’s time at the top was short-lived; another common theme this season—one step forward, followed by two steps back.
After winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last November, taking out Mississippi State, Utah and Butler and getting ranked in the process, Miami fell at home against lowly Northeastern.
A seven-game win-streak ensued, but just as the eight-ranked Canes cracked the Top 10, a humbling loss at Virginia as Miami’s offense cooled off down the stretch.
A get-back-on-the-horse opportunity presented itself days later, with the Canes traveling to Clemson to take on a hot Tigers team—yet another sub-par showing had Miami falling by double-digits and absorbing back-to-back losses for the first time on the year.
A mid-week home win over Duke late January? Followed up by a head-scratching, 26-point road loss at North Carolina State.
Miami put together a five-game win-streak since, but the Canes never looked overly-impressive in the process—hanging on for dear life against Pittsburgh and at Florida State, before needing to overcome a sluggish start at home versus Virginia Tech days back.
The Canes weren’t horrible on Saturday afternoon against the Tar Heels; who played in a manner that reminded all in attendance why North Carolina was the top-ranked team in the preseason.
Six players scored in double figures for the UNC, who dominated the glass by a 46-29 margin, only committed nine turnovers and were a solid 9-of-20 from beyond-the-arc, after a paltry 1-of-13 in this week’s loss to the Blue Devils.
Brice Johnson was in solid form for the home team, scoring 16 points and hauling in 15 rebounds. An emotional leader and spark plug, the senior forward was feisty and playing with a chip on his shoulder, courtesy of North Carolina’s recent loss to an arch-rival.
Justin Jackson added 15 points for the Heels, whose 10-0 run to start the second half pushed the lead to 19 and ultimately broke the Canes’ spirit. UNC show 54-percent on the afternoon, while clamping down on UM’s offense. The lopsided game had the Heels leading by as many as 38.
Angel Rodriguez led the Canes with 12 points and made some plays early on, while Sheldon McClellan added 10 points in 18 minutes of action. Ivan Cruz-Uceda as good for 12 points off the bench, while Anthony Lawrence Jr. went for 23 minutes and scored 11, hitting two 3-pointers and 4-of-5 in field goals made.
Outside of a few bright spots, it was an inconsistent performance. A quick look at the box score shows a lot of missed jumpers in the latter portion of the first half. The Canes couldn’t get in rhythm offensively, while defensive stands were negated when the Heels got second-chance looks, or pulled off a few mini-miracles with the shot clock set to expire.
In short; another game where an opponent played lights out and up to potential, while Miami regressed—unraveling on the main stage, while showing that as a team the Canes’ struggles continue away from the comfortable confines of The BUC.
Not a welcomed stat as two home games remain (as well as two road trips) before heading to Washington D.C. for the ACC Tournament, and ultimately March Madness and all road games.
Virginia lost to Duke last week, but has won eight of its past nine games, while Louisville has knocked off the Tar Heels and Blue Devils dating back to early February. Miami got the best of Notre Dame in Coral Gables weeks back, but the Irish have taken down North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville since and are trending upwards.
At 21-5 overall and 10-4 in the ACC—good enough for second place—it’s not panic-time for the Hurricanes, but too many road losses and overall inconsistency certainly at this point of the season certainly isn’t comforting.
Miami has been good at times and downright bad in others—but at no point (outside one week in Puerto Rico) have the Hurricanes looked great, special or like a one of those find-a-way teams, getting hot as the regular season winds down.
There is certainly time left to turn things up a notch. Over a six-day span the Canes will get a shot at upsetting the Cavaliers, while cooling off the Cardinals. Both games are at home and can go a long way in putting this Tar Heels’ rout in the rear view, before wrapping on the road in South Bend (3/2) and Blacksburg (3/5).
Close strong and Miami can take some momentum on the road for the conference tourney. Struggle over the next four and it won’t bode well for the Canes in the postseason.