North Carolina has often played with the kind of offensive brilliance this season that has left school officials flipping through the record book, searching for perspective. There was some searching again on Saturday – but only to see where the Tar Heels’ first-half misery might have ranked.
One of the worst first halves in recent UNC history – or even not so recent, for that matter – doomed the Tar Heels to a 77-62 defeat at Miami. The loss, which replaced the one at Georgia Tech as UNC’s ugliest of the season, brought an end to the Tar Heels’ seven-game winning streak.
UNC played without Theo Pinson, the 6-6 junior who watched from the bench while he wore a protective boot over his right foot. Pinson, the Tar Heels’ versatile forward who often provides energy, was undoubtedly missed against Miami.
So, too, was the Tar Heels’ shot-making ability and offensive rhythm. UNC (19-4, 7-2 ACC) entered the Watsco Center as one of the best offensive teams in the country, averaging nearly 90 points per game. After taking an early 11-2 lead, though, the Tar Heels had no answers for Miami’s 2-3 zone.
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The Hurricanes (14-6, 4-4), led by freshman Bruce Brown and his 30 points, needed less than four minutes to erase their early nine-point deficit. Once Miami seized that lead it grew quickly, thanks in large part to a defensive performance that was every bit as good as UNC’s offense was bad.
And bad only barely began to describe UNC’s first half. It was a calamity-filled 20 minutes of missed shots and turnovers and exasperation.
The Tar Heels missed at close range, they missed from afar. They missed at a rate that ranked alongside some of the worst performances in school history.
UNC made but six of its 29 attempts from the field during the first half. The 20.7 percent shooting was the Tar Heels’ second-worst in a half under coach Roy Williams, only outdone by a 20 percent performance at Georgia Tech in 2011.
Williams tried what he could. At one point he went with a lineup made up of reserves, including three freshmen. The Tar Heels, though, simply kept missing.
Late in the first half tempers flared – at least one temper, that is – when Joel Berry received a technical foul after disagreeing with an official. By then Miami led 32-18, and then after a free throw it was a 15-point lead.
There were still 3 ½ minutes remaining in the nightmare. To put the extended first half misery into perspective, the Tar Heels scored nine points during the first two minutes and 50 seconds. They scored 13 points, total, during the final 17 minutes before halftime.
UNC made one shot from the field during the final 12 ½ minutes of the first half, and made no shots from the field during the final 8 ½ minutes, after Isaiah Hicks made a jump shot. Hicks made two of his three attempts in the first half, and Justin Jackson was 3-for-5 from the field at halftime.
Their teammates, meanwhile, combined to make one of their 21 attempts from the field in the first half. Jackson led UNC with 21 points but Berry, the team’s second-leading scorer, finished with only two points and missed all eight of his shots from the field.
Miami led 39-22 at halftime, and those 22 points were by a wide margin UNC’s fewest in a half this season. To put it into perspective, the Tar Heels had scored at least twice as many points (44) in 26 halves before Saturday.
They didn’t score their 44th point against Miami, though, until about nine minutes remained. By then UNC, which shot 35 percent overall, trailed by 14 points, and the Tar Heels never managed to cut their second-half deficit to fewer than 11 points.
Throughout the final minutes, the student section serenaded the ninth-ranked Tar Heels with chants of “over-rated.” The Tar Heels walked off of the court without their winning streak and, for the first time in a while, with some uncertainty.