It was more likely than not that the Tar Heels would bounce back but this team has been so maddeningly erratic nothing is ever a sure thing. UNC was also just a one point KenPom favorite heading into this game meaning a tough fight was expected. That's is basically what the Tar Heels experienced with both teams struggling to take care of the basketball and string together any sort of offensive consistency.
The Tar Heels got off to a solid start taking an early eight point lead and maintaining it through the first ten minutes of the period. The initial run was keyed by the perimeter shot with Marcus Paige hitting two 3-pointers and Justin Jackson pulling the trigger and hitting a contested three. Paige's second three gave the Heels a 20-11 advantage with 11:13 left in the half. With Kennedy Meeks hampered by the bigger Tonye Jekiri, Joel James provided big minutes in the first half and scored six points.
Then UNC's offensive inconsistency cropped up again. Turnovers and a couple of ill-advised J.P. Tokoto jumpers on the wing allowed Miami to get out in transition and the Hurricanes closed to within one at the 6:01 mark. The Heels responded to take a 32-25 lead with 2:25 left but a late 5-0 run by the Canes made it just a two point game at halftime.
The second half opened and the game remained tight. Brice Johnson scored 10 points in the first 6:33 of the half to pace the Tar Heels to a 47-42 lead and nominal control of the contest.
Enter the opposing player with the poor three point shooting percentage who magically decides to starting hitting shots. Playing that role today for Miami was Ivan Cruz Uceda, he of the 6-26 shooting prior to today. In the span of 41 seconds, Uceda hit a pair of threes making him 3-6 to that point and giving Miami a one point lead.
To this point it felt like UNC had controlled the game yet the Heels trailed and the crowd was back in the game. Roy Williams used a timeout and out of it a Marcus Paige three gave the Tar Heels the lead back. After Sheldon McClellan's layup tied the game at 50, a three from Joel Berry gave UNC the lead for good. The remainder of the game saw a steady diet of interior offense with Johnson scoring six more(two on dunks) and Kennedy Meeks scoring just his second basket of the game. However the highlight of the game was Paige taking the shot clock down then hitting a fall away baseline jumper on a jump stop to put the Heels up nine with 2:24 left.
Now it was a matter of closing the game out, something UNC has not done well. Over the final 1:45 Jackson and Paige combined to go 10-10 from the free throw line thwarting any hope the Hurricanes had of getting back into the game.
Brice Johnson, who played poorly versus NC State, went for a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds with a mix of dunks and spot up jumpers. J.P. Tokoto had a famine and feast sort of day. His 10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals made for an excellent line however four turnovers and some ill-advised shots were problematic. Still, the good far outweighed the bad. Paige ended up with 17 points and hit two big shots in the second half plus helped seal the game with free throws. Likewise Jackson's six makes at the line late helped him to 11 points.
In the second half, the Tar Heels shot 14-of-27 from the floor on 11 assists, controlled the backboards to the tune of 23-12 and hit 11-of-13 free throws line. During the key stretch in the latter half of the period, UNC held Miami without a point from the 5:15 mark until 1:23 left extending the Tar Heel lead from three to 11 in that span.
Needless to say that's winning basketball and a much needed shot in the arm for a team that had previously struggled in tough games such as this. With the ship once again right, the Heels will head to Atlanta for a Wednesday game ahead of what should be an epic rematch with Duke.