North Carolina (15-2, 2-0 ACC) and Miami (9-6, 0-2 ACC) countered each other with early 8-0 runs as the Hurricanes grabbed a 15-14 lead eight minutes into the game. But UNC added two more first-half runs -- 8-0 and then 9-0 to close the half –- that Miami was unable to match as the boys in blue took a 40-25 lead into the break.
The Tar Heels opened the second half with eight straight points to push their spurt to 17-0 and increase their lead to 23 points. Miami eventually cut its deficit to 15 points with 32 seconds left.
Tyler Zeller paced UNC with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while John Henson also delivered a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Strickland scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and Marshall added 12 points, eight assists and four turnovers.
Kenny Kadji led Miami with 16 points. Reggie Johnson scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Durand Scott added 12 points.
North Carolina shot 44.9 percent (31-of-69), including a woeful 12.5 percent from long range (2-of-16). The Hurricanes connected on 41.8 percent of their shots (23-of-55). UNC outrebounded Miami, 45-29, including a 16-5 edge on the offensive glass.
INSIDE THE GAME
Miami's Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant scored seemingly at will during the two games between the Hurricanes and Tar Heels last season, combining for 63 points against just 24 for Marshall and Strickland.
Those matchups weren't intended for point-by-point comparisons as the backcourts are asked to perform different tasks for their respective teams, but how UNC handled Miami's aggressive tandem of guards was expected to play a critical role in determining Tuesday's contest.
As it turned out, Marshall and Strickland converted their defensive efforts into plenty of scoring opportunities while Grant and Scott were left thinking of last year.
Strickland matched his season-high with 14 points and Marshall cracked double-digits for the first time since last March with 12 points. Grant tied his season-low with five points on 2-of-8 shooting and Scott needed 12 shots to score 12 points.
While Strickland did most of his damage in transition, Marshall singled out freshman Shane Larkin late in the first half. Marshall drove to the basket on three straight possessions – two resulting in layups, the other leading to a Henson free throw – to increase UNC's six-point lead to 11 with 2:09 to play.
"It's just a matter of taking what the defense gives us," Marshall told reporters during his postgame interview. "Dexter and I did a great job of finishing at the rim but it also has to do with getting stops on defense so it's easier to get out on offense. It's a matter of the bigs doing a great job of setting screens so it was a great team effort."
Strickland pointed to his ever-rising confidence as being the spark for his offensive outburst.
"I'm working out every day and every night and just my confidence alone, me believing in myself and knowing that I can knock down a shot, has helped," Strickland said. "Kendall has been doing the same and I think it's working out pretty well for us."
Defining Defensive Performance
It's inevitable – there are going to be nights when the shots don't fall. While that spells doom for most squads, the best teams in the country can persevere with a relenting defensive effort that creates turnovers and points in transition while suffocating their opponent.
Miami had connected on 55.7 percent of its shots in its previous five games leading up to Tuesday, including a blistering 48.0 percent mark from 3-point territory. But the Tar Heels held the Hurricanes to a 34.5 shooting percentage in the first half in building a 15-point lead, despite knocking down just 41.7 percent of their own attempts.
Miami's three-guard rotation combined to shoot 7-of-25 from the floor.
"I thought Carolina was very, very sharp, especially on the defensive end of the floor," Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said. "They took our perimeter players right out of our offense. Right from the first T.V. timeout on, we only had one field goal from our guards in the first half."
The Hurricanes finished the game with a 41.8 field goal percentage, but needed a 10-of-16 flurry in garbage time to elevate that statistic north of 40. North Carolina forced 17 turnovers and scored 14 points off those errors.
On a night in which leading scorer Harrison Barnes scored a season-low six points on 2-of-12 shooting, North Carolina never allowed Miami to take advantage.
"If we get to be really consistent defensively -- you've heard the line that the defense can always show up," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "... Malcolm Grant is really hard to guard and I thought Dexter and Reggie [Bullock] really bothered him. Our defense was important to us."
North Carolina struggled shooting the ball in the first half, missing 21 of its 36 shots, but the Tar Heels were good enough during their three runs – 8-0, 8-0 and 9-0 – to build a double-digit halftime margin against the Hurricanes.
During those runs, which lasted a combined eight minutes and 59 seconds, UNC connected on 11 of its 19 field goal attempts, held Miami to 0-of-12 shooting, pulled down four offensive rebounds, forced five turnovers and outrebounded Miami, 17-4.
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