CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)Miami coach Jim Larranaga went into halftime Monday night knowing his 15th-ranked Hurricanes couldn’t keep letting North Carolina attack off the dribble and get to the rim.
So the Hurricanes turned an opponent that struggles from 3-point range into a jump-shooting team.
Jordan Miller and Nijel Pack combined for 47 points to lead the offense, while the Hurrricanes’ second-half shutdown of driving lanes helped Miami beat UNC 80-72 to stay at the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title chase.
Miller had 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Hurricanes (21-5, 12-4), who led 35-34 at halftime but shot 52% after the break to take control and build a 14-point lead. Yet it was more about Miami’s defense, which closed off the avenues that had helped the Tar Heels (16-10, 8-7) score 26 points in the paint before the break.
The Hurricanes hedged even harder on screens after halftime to drive UNC ballhandlers farther from the basket and take that away. UNC managed just 14 points in the paint after halftime.
”They were making layups on us,” Larranaga said. ”We had to take that away. The guys did a great job of doing that. Again, when you fall behind, oftentimes that leads to teams looking for 3s.”
And UNC wasn’t up to the challenge of making them. The Tar Heels came in ranked 14th of 15 league teams in 3-point percentage (31.4%) and made just 5 of 31 attempts from behind the arc.
”In the second half, we tried to do (attack) and they just did a better job of closing down that paint,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. ”The only way that you can open that up is to make some perimeter jump shots, and we just weren’t able to do it.”
R.J. Davis scored 23 points while Caleb Love had 20 for the Tar Heels, who trailed by 11 in the final 2 1/2 minutes before making a frantic comeback. UNC got within 73-69 on Love’s 3-pointer with 34.9 seconds left, but the Hurricanes made 11 of 14 free throws in the last 63 seconds to stay in control.
Miami: The Hurricanes entered with four straight wins including a 32-point romp against Duke at home. That run had pushed Miami to within a game in the loss column of Pittsburgh and No. 7 Virginia for the league lead. Now they have a fifth road win in ACC play.
UNC: The Tar Heels have had a strange journey from preseason No. 1-ranked team with four starters back from last year’s unexpected ride to the NCAA title game to unranked and working to shore up their NCAA Tournament resume in mid-February. After a humbling loss at Wake Forest, the Tar Heels responded with a spirited effort to beat Clemson on Saturday – only to squander this chance to help their postseason resume.
”We all know, everybody in the building knows what’s at stake,” said big man Armando Bacot, who had 12 points and sat with four fouls for a key second-half stretch.
Miller scored at least four times inside against different defenders with the same move: turning toward the middle in the paint with a pump fake and then spinning back toward the baseline to get a step under a defender for a layup.
Larranaga chuckled when Miller was asked about repeatedly using the same move successfully.
”It’s definitely something I practice, but it’s also what the defense gives me,” Miller said. ”I just like getting in the paint and taking my time, seeing what’s there, whether a score, an assist, whatever it is. And I love the pump-fake – I do, I really do.”
Miami: Hosting Wake Forest on Saturday.
UNC: At No. 23 North Carolina State on Sunday.
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