After potentially saving their season with a win on Saturday against Clemson, Carolina couldn’t carry over that momentum tonight, as Miami came into the Smith Center, and beat the Tar Heels, 80-72. As disappointing as this result is, you have to credit Miami for the way they defended Carolina, and also just understand they are a quality team, with maybe the highest ceiling of every team in the conference. Jordan Miller led the Hurricanes with 24 points,, on 9-14 shooting, as he played the entire game. Nijel Pack added 23 points, on 7-11 shooting, as their backcourt vastly outplayed Carolina’s. Caleb Love may have scored 20 points, and R.J. Davis may have also scored 23 points, but they did so on a combined 16-34 shooting, which isn’t bad, but not good enough. Overall, Carolina shot just 44% from the field, and 16% from deep, as they went 5-31, after going 15-33 on Saturday. Not only did Carolina struggle to shoot the ball, they also got beat up on the boards, losing the rebounding battle 40-32 overall. Including 32-23 on the defensive glass.
There is no denying that Armando Bacot picking up four fouls in the first six minutes of the second half drastically impacted the outcome of tonight’s game. Bacot was limited to only 12 points, and four rebounds, as without the best player on the floor, Carolina’s offense bogged down. Tonight serves as a reminder to Bacot, just how important he is to this team, as their NCAA Tournament hopes do remain on life support.
There aren’t many times that UNC will place four starters in double-figures scoring, and still lose, but that’s what happened tonight, as the bench wasn’t able to provide a spark. The reason tonight stings a little extra is that a win tonight, would’ve strengthened their postseason hopes, but a loss makes the remaining games more important, with the competition being equally tough.
Shot Selection: After displaying a level of decision-making on Saturday that we haven’t seen this season, Carolina returned to their old, frustrating ways, as the offense was a shell of itself from the other day. UNC scored 22 of their first 28 points inside the paint, and 40 of their 72 total points came from that area on the court, yet Carolina was reluctant to shoot 31 three-pointers, while only connecting on 5 of them. Miami’s backcourt had issues keeling UNC out of the lane, yet Love and Davis attempted a combined 19 three-pointers, which is a big reason why they lost again tonight.
Miami’s Backcourt: There have been many debates during the season regarding which backcourt is the best in the ACC. When the season started that answer was Carolina’s combination of Love and Davis. In the middle of January, that answer was probably, NC State’s duo of Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, but as we enter the homestretch the correct answer is Miami’s backcourt of Jordan Miller, Nijel Pack, and Isaiah Wong. All three scored in double figures tonight, and both impacted the game on both ends of the floor. They controlled the pace on offense, and took UNC out of their offense on defense, specifically in the second half. Miami’s backcourt is the reason they may just be the team to beat in the ACC.
Rotation: For some reason, Hubert Davis continues to start Pete Nance over Puff Johnson, despite Nance not being able to impact the game like Johnson as mentioned earlier. Nance played 30 minutes, scored 2 points, and grabbed 6 rebounds. Puff Johnson played 14 minutes, scored 2 points, and grabbed a rebound. While Puff didn’t impact the game from the rebounding perspective like Nance, he scored as many points in half the time on the court. At some point, Davis has to come to terms with the fact that Nance isn’t helping this team the way he was expected to upon transferring in and give Puff a chance to grow into the type of player he’s capable of being.
Free Throws: Miami made 7 more free throws than Carolina attempted, as the Hurricanes were an efficient 22-26 from the foul line. Meanwhile, Carolina was just 9-15, which wasn’t good enough to get the job done tonight. This team needs to get back to forcing the issue and living at the foul line.
Up Next: Carolina travels to Raleigh to take on rival NC State on Sunday, in a game with massive NCAA Tournament implications. The game is set to tip at 1 PM, on ESPN.