Ice-cold North Carolina went without a field goal for the last 12:10 of the game and blew an 11-point lead in what is easily its most disappointing loss of the season, a 64-61 overtime setback to Miami before a sellout crowd of 7,000 in the first ever game in the Convocation Center, the Hurricanes' new on-campus arena.
Trailing 41-34 two minutes into the second half, the Tar Heels exploded for an 18-0 run that may have been the team's most impressive stretch of the season.
The run was mainly ignited by UNC's defense, as head coach Matt Doherty switched his team from a man-to-man to a zone, focusing on limiting quality 3-point attempts for the Hurricanes (7-5), who had hit 5-11 in the first half.
It worked, as Miami's offense went into a tailspin, and the Tar Heels converted rebounds and steals into slam dunks, fast-break layups, secondary jumpers, and finally a Byron Sanders put-back off a Jawad Williams miss to give UNC its largest lead, 52-41, with 12:01 left in regulation.
"I'm disappointed we lost a game here to a good Miami team," Doherty said. "It would have been nice to come away with a win today and I felt like our guys deserved it although we didn't shoot the ball very well I think that's a credit to their defense. I think our zone really caused some problems for them in the second half and got us the lead, and we just weren't able to sustain it."
With a comfortable margin in hand, Doherty had his team slow things down offensively to limit Miami's number of possessions, effectively speeding up the clock. But it backfired as it took the air out of the Tar Heels.
At that point Carolina (8-4) began to feel the South Florida chills, and after Melvin Scott and David Noel connected for a pair of 3s to give the Heels a 58-49 lead with 7:10 left in the second half, they suddenly couldn't hit anything – and didn't - missing their final 14 shot attempts, eight in overtime. In fact, UNC's starters went the final 11:31 of regulation and all five minutes of overtime without a field goal.
"Part of that [is] we didn't shoot well. Part of that is we were stagnant. Part of that is my fault," a solemn Doherty explained. "That happens. You gotta give them credit. They're a pretty good defensive team."
UNC was missing layups, short jumpers, 3-pointers, and power lays while Miami methodically chipped away at the lead, finally catching the visitors when Darius Rice nailed a 3 from the right corner with 2.5 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
"They just slowed the game down and we didn't really get great looks and we really just didn't hit big shots," said McCants, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. "I missed a couple of layups. Little things lost this game."
Yet, the Heels had a chance to salt the game away despite their offensive ineptitude. But, with a four-point cushion, Raymond Felton (12 points, six assists) missed the front end of a one-and-one with 53 seconds left and Manuel hit just one of two for only a three-point lead with 24 seconds remaining in regulation.
"I was upset with myself and am still upset about the situation, I should have hit those free throws," Felton said about the missed freebie. "It should never have gone into overtime had I hit those free throws."
The Tar Heels had a chance to redeem themselves in overtime. Neither team scratched the surface for the first two minutes, as both appeared a bit tight. UNC even managed to take a 61-60 lead when Manuel (11 points, four rebounds, three turnovers) hit one of two free throws.
Rice, a 6-foot-10 junior that was highly recruited coming out of high school, then put back a Hurricane miss to give Miami the lead for good at 62-61 with 2:14 left in OT.
Needing a 3 to tie the game in the final 19 seconds, Williams (nine points, three rebounds) bricked one from the top of the key. But the ball went out of bounds off a Miami player and the Tar Heels had one more shot with seven-tenths of a second left, but Williams' 3 was blocked. And although there appeared to be contact, no call was made, sending Doherty into a fit and Carolina to its fourth loss in its lasts even games.
"Disappointed," Doherty said when asked about the late no-calls that went in Miami's favor. "I will look at the film. Human error is part of it. I believe that Jawad did get hit. Jawad doesn't shoot a 3-pointer and the ball goes ten feet, and I don't think it was tipped. I thought it was pretty obvious.
"But that's part of the game, and I think people here at Miami realize that after last night's [Fiesta Bowl] football game."
Williams even acknowledged a similarity to the controversial call in the Miami-Ohio State national championship football game played the night before where the Hurricanes were flagged for a questionable pass interference penalty on a play that otherwise would have ended the game. But instead it gave OSU life and the Buckeyes eventually won the game.
"It was very similar," Williams said. "But hey, we still have to play another day."
James Jones led Miami with 21 points. The 6-foot-8 senior also had eight rebounds, seven blocked shots and a pair of steals.
The Tar Heels struggled to keep up on the scoreboard in the first half mainly because the Hurricanes shot 50 percent (12-24). When open, the 'Canes knocked down their jumpers, five of which were 3-pointers, including a pair by Rice.
On the other hand, UNC shot just 30.6 percent (11-36) from the field in the first 20 minutes, but forced 10 turnovers and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to stay close.
Miami's first two field goals were 3s and the 'Canes quickly jumped out to a 6-1 advantage. UNC eventually took its only lead of the half at 13-12 after a four-point play, highlighted by David Noel's jump-hook on an inbounds play following a pair of Manuel free throws after an intentional foul on Miami's Mike Simmons.
But the 'Canes responded with a 8-2 run to take a 20-16 lead with 11:31 left before intermission.
Miami went on a 7-0 run after a Felton 3 cut it to 20-19, and the teams basically traded baskets until halftime, which saw Miami lead 35-30.
But for Carolina it's truly crunch time despite the season being just 12 games old. The Heels host Davidson and then travel to Virginia. Without Sean May and losing a game the way they did tonight, confidence for the youthful Heels could become a concern.
"We just have to bounce back," Williams said. "It's disappointing, but to be a good team we just have to bounce back."
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.