The Tar Heels were effective in the opening 20 minutes with rotations out of their halfcourt traps to cover Miami's perimeter shooters. The second half was a different story. Even though the Hurricanes misfired on their first four looks from long range after halftime, it wasn't due to tight defense.
Kenny Kadji knocked the lid off the rim with a 3-pointer to give Miami a 43-39 lead with 13:40 to play. Over the next 10:35, the Hurricanes connected on five of their nine 3-point attempts, almost all being wide open, in building a 64-55 lead with 3:05 to play.
During his postgame press conference, Roy Williams highlighted two defensive breakdowns that allowed open looks. On one, two Tar Heels stayed on the passer instead of switching off to the shooter, and on the other, help defense was late coming over and couldn't recover in time.
"It was more of a lack of communication on the defensive end," Hairston told reporters following the game. "Because in our rotations, we're all supposed to sprint off and get to the shooters and find a man."
Credit Miami with making the necessary halftime adjustments to swing the ball quickly when UNC employed its traps.
"When we play a team that pressures us and is going to be trapping the ball handler, we share the ball and spread them out," Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said. "If you get an open three, you have the green light to shoot it."
If it seemed as though UNC had more defensive breakdowns in giving Miami open looks from the perimeter, there's a reason. Those weren't breakdowns, however; that was scheme.
According to Hairston, the Tar Heels are instructed to sprint off the traps into the lane and then look for a man. The Hurricanes took advantage by moving the ball quicker than UNC could recover from the paint.
The communication breakdowns after halftime were also prevalent in North Carolina's last two games against UNLV and Virginia. The Runnin' Rebels shot 37.9 percent in the first half before improving to 53.3 percent in the second half. The Cavaliers followed a similar pattern, shooting 37.5 percent before halftime and 52.0 percent after.
Miami's disparity wasn't as severe (46.2 percent vs. 48.1 percent), but open looks were more plentiful after the break.
UNC's last three opponents connected on 37.9 percent of their 3-pointers (11-of-29) in the first half, compared with a 50 percent effort (14-of-28) in the second half.
There is one common dominator in those three games – UNC's bench is always on the defensive end of the floor for the first half. According to Hairston, that helps explain why UNC has had better communication during the opening 20 minutes.
"I feel like that was with the coaches being right there on the defensive end while we were in the first half," Hairston said. "In the second half, that's when the communication kind of dropped because the coaches were farther away and we didn't know our rotations as well and we were late to some rotations. I feel like that was the key to the game."
Defensive communication is not a one-man job; it's the responsibility of all five players on the court, which makes the challenge of fixing the problem that much more daunting 15 games into the season.