There is a lot of talk about effort, intensity, basketball IQ, etc, etc, etc. However much of that talk grossly complicates what is a very simply proposition about this team. They have a very thin margin of error and that margin is largely connected to the play of Marcus Paige. The sophomore guard who has, at times this season, been sensational endured a second straight game of poor shooting and out of sorts play. Paige went 2-15 from the floor and 2-11 from three on his way to a second straight single digit scoring game. Leslie McDonald also struggled to score going 3-12 and 2-7 from three. With little to no perimeter production and Miami's match-up zone shutting off the interior, the offense simply couldn't get traction. UNC shot 30.8% for the game which is the lowest shooting output in 82 ACC home games under Roy Williams.
The game certainly didn't start out that way. UNC bolted to an 8-0 lead in the first two-plus minutes of the game. Joel James was a huge part of that scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds in his return to the starting lineup after missing four games with a sprained MCL. Despite the fast start, UNC eventually got bogged down in an ineffective offense while Miami did just enough to take control of the game. The Hurricanes answered UNC's 8-0 spurt with a 10-0 run and ended up outscoring the Heels 29-15 over the final 17 minutes of the half.
The second half didn't bring much of change in the game's flow or momentum. Miami extended the six point lead to nine and Joel James was hit with a flagrant two foul for hitting Miami's Rion Brown in the face during a play on UNC's offensive end. The foul resulted in James ejection and left UNC without his services for the sixth time in as many games. The ejection did seem to light a fire under UNC with Brice Johnson coming into the game, though it could be argued the sophomore center was a bit too amped up as he sailed a pass over Nate Britt's head. Still, UNC cut Miami's eight point lead to two. Part of the run was fueled by another spectacular J.P. Tokoto dunk that ignited the crowd.
As it turns out, UNC was unable to maintain the push thanks in part to multiple defensive lapses leading to a 10-0 Hurricane run. A three from Brown and a pair of wide open dunks gave Miami control of the game back. Roy Williams became so exasperated by the Tar Heel defense he went to Jackson Simmons in place of Brice Johnson. A subsequent 10-4 run got the Heels within four but that was as close as they would ever get. Miami continued to have an answer for every challenge eventually closing out their fourth straight win over UNC.
For the balance of the game no one really played well. McAdoo led the Heels with 12 points on 5-12 shooting but struggled at the line going 2-6. That sort of shooting effort was common across the board as the Heels failed to shoot the ball well throughout the course of the game. UNC did control the boards 42-38 and enjoyed an 18-9 edge in 2nd chance points. However, for a second straight game, the opposing team make it to the free throw line more than UNC. Miami went 16-26 from the line to UNC 12-20. The Miami zone had a lot to do with that since it effectively cut off drives to the basket which UNC often uses to induce fouls. Miami wasn't necessarily great on offensive but when UNC is playing as poorly as they did on that end of the floor, it doesn't take much.
For a second straight season UNC is 0-2 to start ACC play. Last season the Heels went to Florida State and won a tough game to avoid going 0-3. The order is much taller this weekend as the Heels face #2 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The only thread of consistency in this wildly inconsistent season is the Tar Heels somehow find a way to win against highly ranked teams. Based on the look and feel of this team both on the court and following the game, Saturday's game will put that theory to a serious test.