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UNC vs. Miami: Three Things to Watch

The Tar Heels have a chance tomorrow, but they must finish the job.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Virginia Tech Michael Thomas Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the North Carolina Tar Heels were on the cusp of a much-needed victory. But this group failed to execute when it matter most and Carolina now stands at an unprecedented sixth-straight ACC loss. If UNC cannot take down Miami tomorrow at the Smith Center, the suffering may long continue, especially since key players are still in street clothes or are playing at less than 100 percent.

Against Virginia Tech, there were some notable areas of improvement, especially when compared with the previous game. Yet, the Tar Heels found a way to lose a game that was theirs for the taking. Considering the results of last game and a similar lineup, here are three things to watch tomorrow against the Hurricanes.

Will Justin Pierce have another solid performance?

With Brandon Robinson out with lingering ailments from his car crash, Justin Pierce earned the start Wednesday evening against Virginia Tech. Pierce took advantage of the opportunity and scored 15 points on 6-10 shooting, including 3-5 from three-point range. His three long range connections were especially important in the absence of Robinson. Pierce’s shot selection was much better and his 60 percent performance proves his efficiency.

Is Pierce better when he has time to find an offensive rhythm, rather than needing to provide immediate impact from off the bench? It definitely seemed that way Wednesday night. If Robinson cannot go Saturday, or if he is still much less than 100 percent, expect Pierce to get the start. Let’s see if those early minutes make the difference again.

Keep On Keepin’ On

In the first half against Virginia Tech, Carolina found success in the paint on offense and had sustained moments of high defensive pressure that kept the Hokies’ at just 4-15 from three-point range. The story changed in the second half. After scoring 26 points in the paint in the first half, UNC managed only 14 in the second half. On defense, the Carolina defenders allowed VT to find their rhythm and scored seven three’s.

The Tar Heels must find a way to sustain successes during the course of a game.

When the Hokies defense started double teaming Garrison Brooks, the guards eventually gave up on the inside offense. At the end of the game and throughout overtime, it took the individual effort of Brooks to make plays on the inside. In these situations when what has previously worked not longer does, this team has abandoned their offensive game plan and allowed opponents to dictate the play in the half court. This leads to poor shot choices, rushed attempts, and no offensive rebounds. At the same time, it bleeds into their defensive efforts.

It is certainly easier said than done and the armchair coaches here do not have an answer. When the lineup is so thin and something is working, the Tar Heels need to find a way to push through and sustain those successes.

Learn to Finish

The Clemson and Virginia Tech games were gut-wrenching because they could should have been won. Down the stretch there were bone-headed plays, missed opportunities, and a lack of clarity from the sidelines. This team will make a step forward, no matter which lineup is on the court, if they can win a tight one at the end.

Miami has faced a tough schedule in the past two weeks and are in a vulnerable position. The Tar Heels are back on their home court in the most winnable game in the foreseeable future. And more than likely, this will be another close game. Carolina must find a way to find the late lead and keep it.

Coach Roy Williams said this team “needed to be rewarded a little bit” in the post game after Virginia Tech. The best reward, and greatest learning moment, will be a win in a hard-fought game.

Can the Tar Heels earn that victory tomorrow?