The Wolfpack allowed a 17-point second-half lead to disappear over those final minutes as the Hurricanes came all the way back to take a one-point lead with one minute left. But when the Pack absolutely had to have a stop, they got it.
A steal by Ryan Harrow with 20 seconds left allowed the Pack to take a two-point lead and Scott Wood forced a bad pass from Malcolm Grant. The ball, and half of the players on the court, fell to the floor in a mad scramble as time expired to give the Pack a much-needed 72-70 win over Miami at the RBC Center.
"It's just what we usually do in the second half – not play defense." Wood said. "The main thing is we locked down on the last two plays but we have to work on those 10 minutes."
The win puts the Pack at 12-7 overall and moves them to 2-3 in ACC play. The Pack will spend the next week on the road, traveling to Clemson on Tuesday and to Chapel Hill on Saturday as they try to get above .500 in league play.
"They are all a must win for me," Sidney Lowe said. "You can put a capital 'M' on it, you can put an asterisk beside it. It's a big win."
"We are trying to start something."
The Pack won despite being out-shot by the Hurricanes, who hit 47 percent from the field and shot an amazing 57 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Pack shot 45 percent from the floor but outscored the Hurricanes 13-2 from the free-throw line in the win.
In addition to getting to the line, the Pack also won the turnover battle by coughing the ball up just eight times while forcing 11 turnovers. The pulled down nine offensive rebounds on 33 misses but allowed Miami to grab 10 on their 32 misses.
Richard Howell started for the Pack for just the fourth time this season and led the way with 17 points. Tracy Smith added 16 points and grabbed five rebounds while Scott Wood added 11 points and Lorenzo Brown scored 10 in the victory. CJ Leslie had just three points after missing Saturday's practice due to illness.
"I thought all the guys came in and played well for us," Lowe said. "I thought the first group was very good, I thought their defense was excellent. Offensively against their zone we executed, we got wide open looks."
The starting line-up featured a few new faces as Howell, Harrow and CJ Williams all started for Lowe's squad. The changes seemed to work as the Pack started the game with a 12-2 run, forcing Miami to turn the ball over and the converting those opportunities on the offensive end. Miami would make a run of its own later in the half, as Adrian Thomas buried two 3s to give the Hurricanes a brief one-point lead.
But the Pack, who shot 47 percent in the half compared to 39 percent for the Canes, stayed out in front for most of the first 20 minutes thanks to its defensive intensity. The Pack allowed only two second-chance points and forced seven turnovers to stay on top of the Canes. Williams gave the Pack a 37-30 halftime lead when he grabbed an offensive board and hit a fall-away 3 to beat the buzzer.
"I really like the way we came out with the energy," Lowe said.
The stretch of good play continued for the Pack over the first 10 minutes of the second half, building up a lead as high as 55-38 before things began to unravel. Miami's comeback was led by its ability to get in the lane and get offensive rebounds.
The Hurricanes finally broke through with 1:04 to play when Durant Scott hit a lay-up to give Miami its first lead in almost 30 minutes. The Pack responded though, as Smith came up with a big offensive board and put-back to pull the Pack back on top. Harrow followed up with a big defensive stop, Williams hit one of two free throws and Wood forced the bad pass to end the game.
"It was just a big confidence booster," Wood said. "We are still working, got kinks to get out."