UNC Tar Heels Gut out Epic Win over Miami Hurricanes in ACC Tournament Thriller
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This game was over, or so everyone watching thought.
Down by 19 points with less than 10 minutes to go, UNC seemed headed for a surefire defeat as the Miami Hurricanes looked poised for a second consecutive unlikely ACC Tournament win, following their stunning, last minute, 10-point comeback versus UVA just 24 hours earlier.
However, this time the tables would turn as Miami was forced to succumb to an epic comeback set for a spot in the annals of ACC Tournament lore.
The Tar Heels had a recent surge in the second half of the conference season coinciding with the abrupt departure of former starting point guard Larry Drew, which culminated in a regular season finale victory over archrival Duke and earned the Tar Heels the top overall seed in the ACC tourney.
However, UNC started this game flat and sloppy.
The Tar Heels turned the ball over 16 times in the first half. At one point in the game, head coach Roy Williams sat his entire starting lineup and scolded them on the bench while the "Blue Steel" team, a group primarily comprised of walk-ons and seldom used players, held on for their dear lives in a game that was quickly spiraling out of control for the Tar Heels.
Miami led 31-22 at the break in what must have been UNC's lowest first half total of the season.
The game did not get any closer in the early parts of the second half and Miami's lead grew to 53-34 with just under ten minutes to go before North Carolina's improbable comeback run began.
Freshman star Harrison Barnes played solidly throughout the game, scoring a team-high 18 points on 7-13 shooting to go along with five rebounds. But suddenly, his running mates Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller began to play as effectively as they often have during UNC's 14-2 ACC regular season.
Three-pointers started to fall, loose balls and rebounds found their way into Carolina's hands and UNC finally found a way to stop a Hurricanes offense that had heretofore scored three-point baskets and bunny lay-ins at seemingly every opportune moment.
Credit Williams' tough love approach and the resiliency of this young Tar Heels team for fighting hard to get back into this game in which the outcome appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
With just under a minute to go, Carolina cut the lead to one before a Miami free throw on the ensuing possession put the Hurricanes up by two.
A Zeller jump hook in the lane on UNC's next trip down the floor tied the contest at 59 points per side.
North Carolina then forced a Miami turnover on its next possession and with 18 seconds left in regulation, UNC had the ball in its hands.
Miami had fouls to give and was able to force UNC to inbound the ball with five seconds to go.
The Tar Heels' other freshman sensation, starting point guard Kendall Marshall, received the inbound pass, maneuvered around the Miami defense as Zeller pinned his defender on his back, received a perfect entry pass from Marshall in the low-post and laid the ball in for the game winner as the buzzer sounded to take the final lead at 61-59.
In the storied histories of the UNC men's basketball program and the ACC men's basketball tournament, this game will go down as one of the best Carolina comebacks and will be long remembered among the great early round games in ACC tourney history.
And tomorrow, the Tar Heels get to suit up once again.
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