No. 5 North Carolina bounced back in a big way from Wednesday's one-point loss to Duke by taking sole possession of first place in the ACC on Saturday with a 96-71 throttling of No. 11 Miami at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The Tar Heels improved to 22-5 on the season with an ACC mark of 11-3, while the Hurricanes dropped to 21-5 and 10-4 in the conference.
Senior forward and National Player of the Year candidate Brice Johnson was spectacular again for UNC with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Miami had no answer for him in the paint.
As Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports pointed out, head coach Roy Williams' team showed Saturday how special it can be when it performs to its full potential:
North Carolina pounds Miami into submission in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels' ceiling still looks greater than anyone else's ceiling right now.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 20, 2016
After a fairly even opening 10 minutes, North Carolina started to pull away during the latter portion of the first half.
One of the plays that turned the tide in UNC's favor was this emphatic dunk by Johnson at the 12:26 mark, which got the fans on their feet, per CBS Sports CBB:
The Tar Heels were accurate from three-point range after hitting just one trifecta in their loss to the Blue Devils, according to Carolina Basketball on Twitter:
The Tar Heels shot 53% in the first half and are 3 of 7 beyond the arc.— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) February 20, 2016
North Carolina also received great production from its bench, with Theo Pinson shining in particular:
North Carolina's bench is outscoring Miami's bench 14-3 in the first half. Theo Pinson with 8 points and 3-3 shooting— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) February 20, 2016
The Tar Heels entered halftime with a 42-33 advantage, but they nearly led by even more after this long-distance heave from Johnson.
As seen in this video, he drained a shot from three-quarters court at the end of the first half; it left his hands after the buzzer, however, so it did not count:
It may not have counted...but this full court shot by Brice Johnson was ridiculous. https://t.co/tUWTHgvLaR— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 20, 2016
Guards Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez combined for 20 points for Miami in the opening half, but they received little help from their supporting cast, especially when it came to the bench.
That proved to be an issue for the Hurricanes in the second half as well, and North Carolina took full advantage.
As if UNC's nine-point lead coming out of the locker room wasn't enough to get the Chapel Hill faithful riled up, the crowd went wild when it found out rival Duke had lost to Louisville, per Marilyn Payne of WRALSportsFan.com:
The fans in the Dean Dome are on their feet cheering the Duke-Louisville final score during timeout of Miami-UNC.— Marilyn Payne (@marilyn_payne) February 20, 2016
The players may have fed off that energy, as the Tar Heels went on an impressive 13-1 run to open the second half. The spurt was spearheaded by three-point makes from Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson:
Tar Heels go on a 13-1 run to start the second half. Miami calls a timeout after the Tar Heels forced a shot clock violation UNC 55, UM 34— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) February 20, 2016
Miami finally broke up the run with a free throw, but UNC continued to pour it on thereafter, as nearly every shot it threw up seemed to go down.
Carolina continued to make its open threes and create easy opportunities in transition, but as Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports pointed out, its defense had plenty to do with the offensive outburst:
North Carolina's lead had ballooned to 30 by the time the midway point of the second half rolled around, which impressed Seth Davis of CBS Sports just days after the Tar Heels' disappointing loss to the Blue Devils:
North Carolina making a huge statement today, now up 30 on Miami with 10 mins to play.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 20, 2016
Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get much worse for Miami, sophomore guard Ja'Quan Newton went down with an apparent knee or leg injury with roughly six minutes remaining, per Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:
Oh no. Jaquan Newton's left knee just bent the wrong way on a drive to the rim. And Miami is down 38 at UNC.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) February 20, 2016
Newton made his way off the court slowly with help from two trainers, which added even more doom and gloom to an awful day for the Hurricanes.
Head coach Jim Larranaga's squad went on a 8-0 run from the 5:28 mark until there was 4:28 left in the contest. Though Miami's fate was already sealed at that point, the late-game outburst prevented the final score from getting even more out of hand.
Even so, the Hurricanes must go back to the drawing board to figure out how to compete with elite teams such as the Tar Heels.
As for North Carolina, it proved that it is capable of some special things when it's firing on all cylinders at both ends of the floor.
Adam Schein of CBS Sports said the team's performance reaffirmed the notion the Tar Heels can win the national championship in 2016:
It's the most wide open and zany year in college hoops, but still believe my preseason pick North Carolina is the "favorite" to win it all.— Adam Schein (@AdamSchein) February 20, 2016
Perhaps most impressively, eight players scored at least seven points for UNC on Saturday, including six who reached double figures.
North Carolina has arguably more depth and offensive talent than any team in the nation, and Miami learned that firsthand.
While the 2015-16 season has been among the most unpredictable in recent college basketball history, the Tar Heels may have established themselves as the favorites by crushing a team many had expected to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Williams was largely in great spirits after what was perhaps UNC's most impressive win of the season, and that showed in his postgame press conference.
According to Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer, Williams didn't allow his players to get down on themselves after losing to Duke:
There was no "woe is me" after the Duke game, Roy says. Notes UNC was still 10-3 and tied for first in the ACC.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) February 20, 2016
Williams said the difference between the Duke loss and the Miami win came down to shots falling:
Here's Roy: "Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket." Told ya.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) February 20, 2016
While Williams was thrilled with his team's performance, he also chastised Gottlieb after the CBS Sports analyst suggested prior to the game that the 65-year-old coach might retire at the end of the season:
Roy rips Doug Gottlieb for saying before the game that Roy was retiring and that Hurbert Davis was taking over. (Something I missed.)— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) February 20, 2016
Roy says "that's not journalism." Called it "sinful" twice to say that. Says Gottlieb couldn't put his shorts on right at Oklahoma State.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) February 20, 2016
Gottlieb responded, saying he was speculating rather than reporting on the matter:
There was no "report" on Roy. Simply stating his knees,vertigo,NCAA stuff make people think this could be his last year #UNC— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) February 20, 2016
Larranaga didn't make any excuses for what happened on the court, and he acknowledged that the Tar Heels were the far superior team Saturday:
Larranaga says Miami didn't anything that it planned on doing today. "They just had our number from start to finish."— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) February 20, 2016
In what could be considered a bit of good news, however, Larranaga's report on the status of Newton's injury wasn't as bad as many feared it could be:
Ja'Quan Newton's injury "appears initially to be a bone bruise to shin," per #Miami coach Jim Larrañaga but no full details/examination yet.— Marilyn Payne (@marilyn_payne) February 20, 2016
The Hurricanes could use Newton for the stretch run, as they will face three ranked teams in a row beginning Monday against Virginia.
The Tar Heels have a challenging final four regular-season games in their own right, including their finale against Duke, which is a contest they undoubtedly have circled on their calendar.
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