Anytime you hear North Carolina fans say, “We lost, but I’m proud of our effort,” you know the Tar Heels must have played very well. A fanbase with extraordinarily high expectations typically doesn’t absorb losses gracefully, but today UNC earned praise from even its most irrational supporters despite dropping the ACC Tournament final to Miami 87-77.
The Hurricanes defeated UNC three times this season and beat them in historic fashion during the game at Miami. Carolina thus regained its pride this afternoon, earning a slim second half lead before tiring at the end and failing at any point to stop the Canes’ relentless offensive machine.
Miami held the decisive hand throughout the game. Sophomore guard Shane Larkin scored a career-high 28 points and added seven assists and five rebounds. He continually beat UNC off the dribble at the point of attack and either scored himself or kicked to open teammates. When Roy Williams opted to play a zone defense to rest his team and protect his players against foul trouble, Larkin effortlessly scored against that setup as well.
P.J. Hairston did his part to keep UNC competitive. The sophomore from Greensboro brought joy to local fans and the Carolina crowd at large, scoring 28 points of his own. Freshman Marcus Paige struggled defensively against Larkin but scored 17 points and continues to mature as a playmaker.
Given how well Miami executed its offense — the Canes shot 51 percent and 55 percent on threes — UNC couldn’t withstand Reggie Bullock’s 3-for-14 shooting performance. The Heels’ small lineup also ceded a 36-28 rebounding advantage.
Moving on, the NCAA Tournament field will manifest beginning at 6:00. And within an hour after that, the national basketball audience will have forgotten this game and every other conference tournament result. Bracket mania (i.e., socially encouraged gambling) will dominate chatter this week, and all three Triangle teams are expected to make the field.
From a local perspective, everyone wonders if Duke’s loss to Maryland on Friday will cause the Blue Devils to drop from a No. 1 seed to a No. 2. The Wolfpack appear headed for a spot in the 8-9 range, while UNC may have played its way to a No. 6.
But before you bin memories of the Carolina/Miami ACC final, click here to view the box score.