Finally a second half worth shouting about for the Hurricanes basketball team.
Rion Brown scored 19 points, Erik Swoope was clutch off the bench with a career-best 14 and Miami’s defense stymied North Carolina as the Hurricanes held on for a 63-57 victory Wednesday.
Miami (9-6, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) ran its winning streak to four in a row over the Tar Heels in a rematch of last year’s ACC championship game won by the Hurricanes, who had second-half leads in their first two ACC games this season against Virginia Tech and Syracuse but couldn’t close the deal.
It was much different this time around in the Dean Dome.
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“In the last few timeouts we talked about the previous games where we had played 35, 36 minutes good minutes of basketball and let those last four minutes slip between our fingers,” Swoope said. “We kept telling each other, ‘look we’ve seen this happen before and we know what we need to do and we did our best to execute.’"
Brown came into the game shooting just 37.8 percent (14 for 37) in seven previous games against the Tar Heels (10-5, 0-2), but Miami’s leading scorer rebounded from his seven-point effort over the weekend despite battling second-half foul trouble. Meanwhile, Swoope, playing key minutes in place of Donnavan Kirk, who picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, had scored just 19 points so far this season prior to his breakout against the Tar Heels.
The Hurricanes went up 46-33 with 10 minutes left in the second half on an 11-0 run, keyed by a Brown three-pointer and two dunks by Swoope.
The Tar Heels closed within four points twice down the stretch, the last time coming with 4:30 left before Swoope converted on two consecutive three-point plays to help put the game out of reach.
“It was awesome, I love playing in the Dean Dome and just getting a chance to get out there with my teammates and getting a chance to contribute and bring my senior leadership,” said Swoope, who has averaged just 1.7 points in 91 career games as a role player. “I just wanted to demonstrate to the young guys that we need to hustle, we need to stay together and when we did it was great.”
Miami’s zone limited North Carolina to its lowest first half total to date. The Tar Heels were held scoreless for stretches of 4:43 and 4:38 after bolting to an early 8-0 lead, managing just 23 points in the opening 20 minutes as the Hurricanes grabbed a six-point lead.
“They were coming off a loss and I told our team they were going to come out very hot and very sharp, and we need to absorb that blow and right our way back into contention and hopefully be close at halftime,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga. “And we needed to play with a lot more confidence. At the end of the Syracuse game we got a little tentative.”
Brown keyed Miami’s late first-half surge, scoring on a pair of dunks 48 seconds apart and a three-pointer 1:51 before the break, while another long-range shot by Garrius Adams at the horn sent Roy Williams to the locker room shaking his head and in need of a pep talk for his team, unranked for the second time this season after falling to Wake Forest.
Things got worse for the Tar Heels in the early stages of the second half as Joel James was thrown out of the game after a flagrant foul elbow during a rebound battle against Brown.
Brown, who was 7-for-14 from the field with 10 rebounds, was wearing a patch under his eye following the tough road loss, but wasn’t feeling any pain.
“I went to go box out the big fella and got an elbow,” Brown said. “After that is was black but that’s OK. This is definitely a big moment for us. We’ve had the same game plan against them every time we’ve played them.”