The atmosphere was electric. The players and coaches were pumped. Malcolm Grant had dreams of the team emerging victorious and of students rushing the court.
It was evident that this was the biggest home game of the season.
But Miami (15-9, 6-5 ACC) was outscored by 14 in the second half and fell to No. 8 North Carolina (22-4, 9-2 ACC) 73-64 Wednesday night to drop its second in a row against ranked conference foes.
“We told the team before the game there were three major keys,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “One, we had to take away the five-second layup. Second, we had to control our defensive backboards and not give them a lot of second shots, and third, we couldn’t turn the ball over against their pressure. And we weren’t able to do any of the three things in the second half.”
The Hurricanes, who were in ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s most recent “last four in” for the NCAA tournament, were swept in the season series against Carolina and have now lost nine straight to the Tar Heels.
Miami was put away for good on a Reggie Bullock 3-pointer with 1:40 left that extended the Carolina lead to nine and took the air out of the BankUnited Center.
Harrison Barnes, who drilled the game-winning 3 in last year’s home meeting against the Tar Heels, torched Miami in the second half, scoring 14 of his 23 points after halftime. He connected on three 3-pointers in the final period.
For Malcolm Grant, his dream turned into a nightmare rather quickly, as he converted just one of his six shots, all from long range, to register his only three points on the night. Grant, third on the team in scoring, has now failed to score in double figures in the last four games.
North Carolina, the top rebounding team in the country, scored 23 second-chance points off its 24 offensive boards. John Henson, the 6-foot-11 junior forward, snagged 11 rebounds and got his lengthy arms up on three blocked shots to add to his 14 points.
“They just stayed on the boards,” junior Reggie Johnson said. “That was a big killer for us.”
Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, second in the nation in assists, was held without a field goal, but did register nine assists.
Shane Larkin, who had Miami at 5-1 since his return to the starting lineup, played just 11 scoreless minutes, mostly due to the mismatch against Marshall.
“The last time we played Carolina, Kendall Marshall kind of had his way,” Larranaga said. “We felt like we needed to play a bigger, stronger guy on him.”
Miami did hold the Tar Heels, the highest scoring team in the nation, to 38.2 percent shooting. Three out of the last four wins for UNC have come with the team shooting less than 40 percent.
“For us to be able to grit it out defensively … I think that’s a huge benefit to win games when we play ugly,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
Durand Scott led Miami with 15 points. Four Hurricanes scored in double figures; Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney Jones and Johnson joined Scott in that category.
The Canes, despite the consecutive defeats to tough opponents, still have five games and the ACC Tournament to make their case for a tournament appearance at the end of the season.
“We have plenty of opportunities,” Kadji said. “We have Wake Forest coming, a very good team; we have the ACC Tournament.”
Miami went into the half up 35-30. Good 3-point shooting and 3-point defense were key to the early lead, as Miami hit five and UNC was scoreless from beyond the arc.
Miami will look to rebound Saturday with a 1 p.m. tip against Wake Forest at the BankUnited Center.