2017 ACC Tournament: Five takeaways from Miami’s loss to North Carolina

North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (left) was one source of frustration for Bruce Brown (right) and the Hurricanes. (AP)

North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (left) was one source of frustration for Bruce Brown (right) and the Hurricanes. (AP)

Once was enough for North Carolina.

The top-seeded and sixth-ranked Tar Heels, defending last season’s ACC title and trying to solidify their spot as a top seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, faced a Miami squad that beat them soundly in Coral Gables in late January. The Hurricanes had confidence they could do it again, but UNC wouldn’t let it happen.

Ninth-seeded Miami, coming off Wednesday’s win over eighth-seeded Syracuse, withered a few big leads, but goes home after a deflating 78-53 loss at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Five takeaways from the loss:

Moving on quickly: Losing to the heavily favored Tar Heels, who advance to play the Duke-Louisville winner at 7 p.m. Friday, won’t hurt Miami come Sunday. The Hurricanes will host a party at 5:30 p.m. at the on-campus Rathskeller bar to watch the bracket reveal. Miami’s projected seed is between No. 7 and 9. If you’re traveling, expect a lengthy plane ride to Sacramento, Salt Lake City or Buffalo. As of Thursday morning, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Miami in a 7-10 matchup against lower-seeded Marquette in Sacramento.

The bad thing about the loss to UNC: as ESPN’s commentators smartly noted on the broadcast, it could drop Miami to a No. 8 or 9 seed, and that could mean a second-round tournament matchup against a No. 1 seed. Not ideal.

This could be the smack Miami needed. With Miami down double-digits in a slow-pace game, midway through the second half, ESPN caught Jim Larranaga challenging his team to play harder and tougher. He wasn’t talking strategy. It was a gut-check.

The Canes trimmed a 12-point first-half lead to five by the half, but it ballooned to as many as 16. Larranaga wanted more effort, not execution. Carolina is a bad matchup for Miami, which doesn’t have the bulk to handle the Heels’ big men and can be bothered when guards bring heavy pressure on the ball. UNC eats those teams alive. But given how Miami played in its Jan. 28 win, its coach didn’t expect to see this, even if Carolina looked every bit a Final Four contender.

UNC won the guard battle. UM’s precocious freshman, Bruce Brown, had 30 points and 5 assists in a 77-62 win over then-No. 9 UNC in Coral Gables on Jan. 28. He and his fellow guards dominated. Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton and Brown had 62 of the Hurricanes’ 77 points.

On Thursday? UNC’s pest of a point guard, Joel Berry, registered nine points and three steals, and forced more than a half-dozen turnovers. After going 0-for-8 from the floor in the loss to Miami on Jan. 28, he was a much different player at both ends. Backcourt mate Nate Britt had three steals, with both attacking Miami’s high ball screens.

The Hurricanes committed 15 turnovers.

 

Brown scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but was too loose with the dribble and turned it over three times. Reed (seven points, six rebounds) also had three. Newton (three points, two turnovers, 1-of-5 from the free-throw line) looked lost.

That led to a nothing-doing offense. Miami went long stretches without baskets and scored a season-low 53 points. Just 22 of them came in the second half, with Carolina turning up the head after halftime and outscoring Miami by 20.

Carolina had a stellar 21 assists on 28 made baskets. UM had seven on 19. In a game played to Miami’s pace — UNC plays at the third-fastest tempo in the ACC (56th nationally), according to KenPom.com, and Miami plays at the second-slowest (338th of 351 Division 1 teams) — the Hurricanes were doomed by their inability to convert, and UNC’s active defense and runouts.

The Hurricanes couldn’t buy a shot from the outside, a 3-pointer to slow Carolina’s momentum or quiet its celebrating bench. The Canes shot 24 percent from 3-point land, its fourth-lowest percentage against an ACC team this year.

Freshman D.J. Vasiljevic, a sharpshooting specialist who hit several big ones against Syracuse, missed six shots from the outside in the second half, all of them quality looks. He finished 1-of-7, and it was written on his face as the second half wore on. Reed was 1-for-5. Brown was 1-for-3. Anthony Lawrence hit 2-of-5 and chipped in four steals.

 

 

UNC won the board battle. Miami started out well, leading the rebound battle by one at the half. It finished seven in arrears (36-29).

Lacking bulk and manpower, the Hurricanes struggled to guard Isaiah Hicks (19 points, six boards) and Kennedy Meeks (10 points, seven boards). UM center Ebuka Izundu and forward Kamari Murphy picked up two fouls early, and Izundu’s third late in the first half caused Larranaga to dust off Rodney Miller, who hadn’t played in seven games.

Freshman Dewan Huell, who sprained his ankle last Saturday against Florida State and missed Wednesday’s game against Syracuse, returned but wasn’t much of a factor (one point, two blocks).

 

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