The Hurricanes continued to show flashes of competing against the powerhouses in the Atlantic Coast Conference Saturday afternoon at the Watsco Center.
But once again, Miami’s lack of depth and the Tar Heels’ ability to knock down critical shots late in the game ultimately doomed the Hurricanes in a back-and-forth contest that featured 12 lead changes.
Miami trailed No. 13 North Carolina by one point with under seven minutes to play, but the Tar Heels responded with four three-pointers in the next five possessions to win 85-76 in front of a near-sellout crowd.
“Did they miss a shot in the second half?” Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga said, jokingly. “That was a terrific performance by North Carolina and a valiant effort by our guys. It was a very entertaining game. Both teams played very hard and very well. But Cam Johnson was just incredible in the second half…There was no way to stop him or the Tar Heels.”
Sparked by Johnson, North Carolina (14-4, 4-1 ACC) shot 60 percent from the field in the second half. The fifth-year guard scored 14 of his game-high 22 points after the halftime break and knocked down five threes.
“When it got to the last eight or 10 minutes, I thought Carolina was rolling and we were drained,” Larrañaga said. “There are a lot of really great players in this league, and some Hall of Fame coaches coaching them. So they’re not so easy to beat. Even if you have a terrific team, they probably have more guns than you do, more weapons, more size, more athletic ability and that was on display. Our guys played as well as we can, but eventually, it’s a battle of attrition.”
The Hurricanes’ rotation remained limited to just seven healthy scholarship players with forward Dewan Hernandez ineligible, watching from the sidelines for the 17th consecutive game. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound forward has applied for reinstatement from the NCAA and is expected to receive an answer next week.
“We don’t have enough size and girth and manpower to battle the teams in our league on a regular basis,” Larrañaga said. “Can we do it for periods of time? Yes. But, it’s hard over a long period of time.”
Although short-handed, Miami (9-8, 1-4 ACC) battled toe-to-toe with North Carolina until the final stretch. The Canes cut the deficit to 69-67 with 5:34 after Florida Gulf Coast transfer Zach Johnson hit a pair of free throws.
Yet, the Tar Heels responded. Guard Kenny Williams sunk a three-pointer on the ensuing possession before making another shot from the perimeter with 3:53 to extend the North Carolina lead to eight. The Hurricanes never recovered.
Despite UM’s struggles in the closing minutes, sophomore Chris Lykes put on a show for the Canes’ faithful. The 5-foot-7 guard weaved in-and-out of the Tar Heels’ defense and nailed impressive shots from beyond the arc. The Mitchellville, Maryland native notched a team-high 20 points and six assists.
“His speed and quickness, my gosh, and he can shoot from outside, drive the ball to the basket,” UNC coach Roy Williams said of Lykes. “He’s a complete player.”
Miami seniors Anthony Lawrence II, Johnson and Ebuka Izundu tallied 18, 17 and 13 points, respectively in the defeat.
The Tar Heels finished with five players in double figures. Williams shot 6-of-9 for 16 points and rookie Coby White put on an all-around performance with 15 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Luke Maye fell one rebound shy of a double-double, registering 14 points and nine rebounds. Freshman phenom Nassir Little chipped in 12 points off the bench.
“They scored so quickly and so often from so many different ways,” Larrañaga said. “You’ve got Luke Maye, the preseason Player of the Year. Cam Johnson is 6-9 and shooting threes. Nassir Little coming in off the bench, projected to be a Top 10 pick in the NBA Draft. Coby White, a 6-5 point-guard going against our guy who’s 5-7, and Kenny Williams is a fourth or fifth option and he’s like an NBA guy.”
Miami will look to bounce back when the Hurricanes travel north to face the Syracuse Orange at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Carrier Dome.
“We have to bring it every night,” Lawrence said. “Everybody has to bring it because we don’t have a lot. Everybody has to be ready to play, come in, and be ready to attack.”