All season long, the University of Miami men’s basketball team has been craving a signature win against a highly ranked team, a résumé-booster, preferably on national TV so the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and recruits from coast to coast can see.
The Hurricanes got their wish on Saturday afternoon and made a statement loud and clear in front of a sold-out Watsco Center crowd.
They dominated ninth-ranked North Carolina on both ends of the floor, played swarming defense, led by as many as 22 and came away with a 77-62 win and a jolt of confidence heading into Wednesday’s home game against No. 6 Florida State.
UM freshman Bruce Brown led all scorers with 30 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and he added four rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals. It was the most points by a Hurricanes freshman since UM joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. After the game, he jumped into the student section to celebrate along with teammate Ja’Quan Newton, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
“Not a lot to say,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said in a hushed tone after the game. “It was a big-time kicking of our rear ends is what it was. They were much more aggressive going to the boards, going after loose balls … more aggressive in everything they did.”
The Tar Heels, who led the ACC at 89.5 points per game, had just 22 at halftime on Saturday. The 62-point total was a season low. They missed 20 of their final 22 shots in the first half and went more than eight minutes without making a field goal while UM (14-6, 4-4) went on a 24-5 run. Williams said their 20.7 percent first-half shooting percentage might have been “the lowest in my entire life.”
Things got so bad for the Tar Heels in the second half that Williams picked up a team stool and smashed it at the foot of his players in front of the bench.
“The first two or three minutes we thought it was going to be easy and they kicked us right in the mouth and kept doing it for about 40 minutes,” Williams said. “Brown was tremendous. One of the worst rebounding games we’ve had all year long. Couldn’t get an offensive rebound, couldn’t stop them from getting an offensive rebound.
“Weird day for me to look down and see another team had 11 fastbreak points and we had zero. You have to congratulate Miami. They were much more ready to play, were into it, focused. Bottom line is, they kicked our tails on the court and on the bench.”
North Carolina (19-4, 7-2) led the nation in offensive rebounding entering Saturday’s game and led the ACC in rebounding margin at plus-14.5. On Saturday, the Canes outrebounded the Tar Heels 41-36 and had 11 on the offensive end, just one fewer than UNC’s 12. Joel Berry II, who averaged 15.5 points, was held to 0-for-8 shooting and finished with two points from the free-throw line. Kenny Williams went 1 for 8, and big man Kennedy Meeks was held to five points.
UM had eight steals to just two for North Carolina, and six blocks.
“Every time we laid it up, they were spiking it like a volleyball game,” Williams said of UM’s defense.
The UM coaching staff gave the players a handout and a text message with seven things they had to do on offense and defense to have a chance to beat the Tar Heels. Canes coach Jim Larrañaga said his players followed the plan perfectly.
Zone defense was not among the bullet points, but the coaches decided to try it when the Heels took an early 11-2 lead. It worked, so they stuck with it for much of the game. After blowing a halftime lead against Duke, Brown said the Canes were determined to “keep our foot on the gas.”
The enthusiastic crowd of 7,563 included former UM quarterback Jim Kelly, 14 football recruits who enrolled early and a collection of basketball inductees to the UM Sports Hall of Fame — among them former women’s coach Ferne Labati, current women’s coach Katie Meier, Tamara James and Steve Edwards.
“This was a big win for us, but there’s a lot of basketball left,” Newton said. “We want to get FSU, too.”