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January 10, 2013

‘Canes wear down Heels

CHAPEL HILL--- Once again North Carolina found itself in a dogfight Thursday evening in its second ACC regular season game against Miami, but once again UNC faltered down the stretch, allowing the Hurricanes to take control on its way to a 68-59 victory that drops the Tar Heels to 0-2 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

"Needless to say, it's not a very good feeling right now," said UNC head coach Roy Williams, who watched his unranked squad fall to 0-2 in ACC play for just the fourth time in 60 years in the league.

"We knew Miami was a very good team. They were 4-1 on the road. Give them some credit. It's not just about North Carolina. They made some plays down the stretch."

Miami (11-3, 2-0 ACC) held the Tar Heels (10-5, 0-2 ACC) to just seven points over the game's final nine minutes---turning a 52-51 North Carolina lead at the 9:08 mark into a 64-55 advantage with 3:05 remaining following a three-pointer by Durand Scott.

Although the 'Canes shot just 48.1 percent in the second half it seemed much higher than that, as they got several wide open looks that they connected on.

In the meanwhile, UNC shot just 33.3 percent (11 of 33) in the second half, including a dismal two-of-seven from behind the three-point line.

"Our kids have been doing some really nice things in practice," said Williams. "We just haven't taken it from the practice court to the game court."

"During practice we do everything great, but when we get in the game it's just for certain spans of the game," added junior wing Reggie Bullock.

Kenny Kadji led the way for Miami with 18 points and nine rebounds, all defensive, while Julian Gamble added 14 points and six board.

They were two of four Miami players in double figures, joining Shane Larkin and Scott.

UNC also had four players in double figures, led by James Michael McAdoo's 14 points, but again the Tar Heels struggled to find offensive consistency, shooting just 40 percent on the evening.

The game was close throughout a physical first half, with neither team building a lead of more than six points. That particular advantage was held by the Tar Heels (30-24) at the 3:09 mark of the opening period, but a pair of three pointers by Scott and Kadji pulled Miami to within 32-30 at the intermission.

The 'Canes nailed nine three pointers over the course of the game, and while it took them 26 attempts to reach that total, they found themselves the beneficiaries of multiple perimeter breakdowns by the Tar Heel defense, which often left them wide open.

This was particularly the case during Miami's decisive run late in the game, as Trey McKinney Jones and Scott nailed backbreaking three balls in successive possessions around the four-minute mark to stretch the Hurricane advantage out to nine.

Much like in its loss Sunday evening in Charlottesville to Virginia, the Tar Heels were inept offensively late in the game. They missed multiple good looks and failed to grab key potential offensive rebounds.

And Miami successfully made its free throws down the stretch, dropping four free throws in the final minute to keep Carolina from making things interesting in the closing moments.

"It's a good win for us," said Miami head coach Jim Larranaga. "We opened up conference play with two straight road games. We were able to get two wins, so we're very happy about that. We made some key threes in the corner right in front of our bench in the stretch where we took the lead, and were able to push ahead."

"We're at the Dean Dome. It's North Carolina. The game is never over until the final horn sounds. Our guys finished up pretty strong, making some free throws," Larranaga continued.

While it's still way too early to make any outright postseason projections, this is a devastating loss for Carolina's RPI and its place in the ACC pile.

Now the Tar Heels are looking at an uphill climb just to get to the middle of the pack, and with numerous challenging games to come among 16 remaining regular season contests, including two games with Duke, N.C. State, and Maryland, certainly it can be understood if some Tar Heel fans are panicking in a big way right now.

You won't get Williams to admit he's panicking, but he admitted that there's a palpable amount of stress in that Tar Heel locker room right now.

"When you play basketball at North Carolina people expect a lot from you," said Williams. "I've got some really good kids that are hurting right now and they are also feeling a little stressed. There's no question about that. I've got to coach better. I have to do a better job coaching my team."

"It's extremely stressful," added freshman point guard Marcus Paige. "You play the game to win, and when you have a lot of opportunities like we did and then to just see it kind of slip away gradually, really hurts."

UNC doesn't have the luxury of time to sit around and dwell on this disappointing loss, as they have a quick turn-around with a Friday workout before traveling to Tallahassee for Saturday's afternoon's game at Florida State.

In a way it's good that the Tar Heels won't have time to sit around and think about this loss.

"No one's panicking," said Paige. "It was really an emotional locker room afterwards. This is one we wanted, trying to get our first conference win."

"I don't really know what to do but come every day ready to work and get better, and don't leave the results up to the other team, but just impose my will and our will as a team," added McAdoo.

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