Remember when I said Carolina has a tendency to play down to their opponent? Well, sometimes they play well below the level of their opponent. Embarrassingly low. And then they suddenly wake up, come back from 19 points down and end their opponent's season in spectacular form. You know, a typical Friday.
MIami basically came out playing from the same script they did in their last meeting, with a side of zone defense they've picked up from every team that has had any success against UNC in recent weeks. Malcolm Grant and Adrian Thomas had a lot of success from the three, while Carolina responded with... turnovers. Lots and lots of turnovers. 15 in the first half, a performance that was so bad Roy Williams yanked the starters in favor of two minutes from Blue Steel, the five walk-ons at the end of the bench. UNC's play didn't get noticeably worse with the lineup change, but it didn't get better when the starters returned, either. The Heels went in to half down nine, and didn't start the second half much better. UNC couldn't shoot over the zone, making only three of their first nine threes, and they couldn't get the ball inside to their big men. Tyler Zeller and John Henson would have one basket apiece at the half, and at the Heels lowest point, with just under ten minutes remaining, they were down 19, at 53-34.
It's difficult to find the words to describe what happened next, so it's best to start with this condensed clip of UNC's scoring the rest of the way:
Carolina finally broke the back of the Miami zone with a hot three-point shooting run, in which UNC drained four whie keeping the Hurricanes scoreless. That, plus a John Henson dunk and another Leslie McDonald three made it a four point game with five minutes to play, during which Miami's only points came from Malcolm Grant's free throws – Reggie Johnson being on the bench in foul trouble. A couple of inside baskets from the Heels made it a one point game before Reggie Johnson finally got the ball inside to make it a three point game, but by that time UNC had figured out how to get the ball to Zeller, who would have the final eight points for UNC, including the buzzer-beating basket that gave the Heels their only lead of the game. And just like that, Carolina lives to play another game.
That last play is worth a second look, as the camera angle above doesn't do it justice. Happily, the News & Observer has an incredible series of photos of the play. The first thing to note is John Henson's screen at the top of the key, partially hidden by Kendall Marshall in the first photo. You can see the effect in the second photo; the player, Durand Scott is nearly on the ground and completely out of the play. Marshall can then beat his man, draw Reggie Johnson over, and find Zeller with the pass he was planning on making all along. Zeller, with quick hands and the smarts not to dunk, can get the ball on the backboard an in for the victory.
It's not the prettiest way to win a basketball game, but it's the most memorable. Hopefully UNC has gotten it out of their system and are ready to take on Clemson tomorrow. This disappearing act the Heels occasionally pull is their most exasperating feature, and the reason I didn't have nearly the confidence many in the media did about them being a Final Four team. They can't do this sort of thing from here on out; they have to excel for forty minutes, or the season will end sooner than they'd like.