NEW YORK Everyone on the University of Miami basketball team said they knew exactly what North Carolina was going to do Thursday.
They practiced every Tar Heel tendency Wednesday night in their Manhattan hotel ballroom.
And then the Hurricanes came out at Barclays Center on Thursday and looked like they had forgotten everything. Maybe the ballroom chairs didn’t cooperate.
Looking nothing like the squad that whipped UNC in late January, Miami was buried under a hail of Tar Heel jump shots and inefficient offense, losing 78-53 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
The ninth-seeded Hurricanes (21-11) suffered their worst loss of the season and looked completely out of sync offensively, suffering through a 36-percent shooting game. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels, 15-point losers to UM on Jan. 28, couldn’t miss in the second half and now will face Duke in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday.
How bad was it? UM coach Jim Larrañaga, during a second-half timeout televised by ESPN, screamed to his squad: “Do you want to compete with these guys or not? Because this is the ACC tournament!”
“Nobody really played good, and they just played better than us, all of them,” Miami guard Ja’Quan Newton said. “We didn’t play to our potential, but that’s going to happen some nights.”
None of the Miami players interviewed after the game thought their effort was lacking, and for a half the Hurricanes were right there with top-seeded UNC (27-6), trailing only 34-29 at the half.
Even at that point, though, Miami was having to work extremely hard to get good shots, as the length and athleticism of UNC forwards Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks was causing problems.
And UNC was getting anything it wanted offensively. Out of halftime the Tar Heels went on a 12-3 run to extend their lead to 46-34, and the game was never close after that. Miami had problems stopping UNC’s lobs and drives, and allowed the Tar Heels to shoot 53 percent for the game, including 7 of 17 from behind the three-point line.
“We couldn’t stop what they were doing, even though we knew exactly what was coming,” Miami’s Davon Reed said. “It’s just a tough one to swallow right now.”
Maybe the epitome of the Hurricanes’ offensive struggles was freshman D.J. Vasiljevic. One of the heroes of Wednesday’s win over Syracuse couldn’t buy a bucket on Thursday, going 1 for 7 from three-point range. The Hurricanes also had only seven assists and committed 15 turnovers, compared to 21 and 11, respectively, for UNC.
“Our attention to detail, our focus on the defensive end, was impacted by how poorly we were playing offense,” Larrañaga said. “You get frustrated by your offense, then all of a sudden you’re thinking about your offense when you should be playing defense.”
Bruce Brown was the only Hurricane in double figures on Thursday, scoring 21 points. Hicks had 19 to lead UNC, while Jackson chipped in 12 and Joel Berry had 11.
Now, Miami will stew over this loss until Sunday night, when it finds out where it will be sent and what seed it will get in the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes are projected by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to be a No. 7 seed, but of course that can change in the next few days depending on what happens in other conference tournaments.
“We just have to have a short memory and forget about this one quickly,” Reed said. “Credit to Carolina today, they played better, we didn’t play well, and we’re excited we get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Larrañaga, whose team’s hallmark has been defense all season, sounded upbeat about Miami’s chances next week and beyond.
“I would look at Carolina and think they’re a real threat to win the national championship, and we split with them,” he said.
“I know we played bad today. If we share the ball well and get some assists and don’t turn it over very much, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”