No. 9 Miami beats UNC 87-77 for 1st ACC title

Mar. 17, 2013 @ 05:13 PM

Motivated by an embarrassing 26-point loss in the teams’ previous meeting, North Carolina made Sunday’s ACC Tournament final against Miami a dogfight until the closing minutes.

The Tar Heels matched the nation’s ninth-ranked team shot for shot for much of the game, but couldn’t withstand 28 points from Shane Larkin and Miami’s blistering performance from 3-point range in the Hurricanes’ 87-77 win in the Greensboro Coliseum.

Regular season champion Miami (27-6) earned its first ACC Tournament title, denying North Carolina its first championship win since 2008.

The third-seeded Tar Heels (24-10) have lost three consecutive ACC finals, the first team to do so since Maryland from 1972-74. But this appearance was an unexpected one after an 0-2 start to ACC regular season play that left many fans frustrated and critics aplenty.

“I have no problem with my team,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. “I have nothing to complain about with my team today. I’m really proud of my team. I’m not talking about the entire year, I’m talking about today. I’m unbelievably proud of what they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve come.”

North Carolina players drew inspiration Saturday night from watching film of the 87-61 loss in Coral Gables, Fla.

“It frustrated us to see them having fun against us,” said Greensboro sophomore P.J. Hairston, who matched Larkin’s 28 points. “So we wanted to come out today and just play with intensity that we haven’t played with against Miami.”

Tar Heel point guard Marcus Paige tallied only two points in the blowout loss at Miami. The freshman recorded 17 Sunday on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range to go along with five assists.

“You watch that and you take it personal,” Paige said of the Feb. 9 loss. “When you see them throwing the lob off the backboard and dunking it and getting wide open shots and high-fiving each other all game — we just wanted to go out with the mindset of we’re a better team than we showed last time.”

Paige’s adversary, Larkin, didn’t back down, shooting 4-of-7 from the outside, adding seven assists and finishing 8-of-8 at the free throw line. The sophomore guard hit six of those free throws in the game’s final minute.

“Until you are out there defending him, it’s just a different level of quickness,” said Paige. “He’s a complete guard, not selfish. He’s had as good a year as any guard in the country.”

“He’s phenomenal,” Williams added on Larkin. “He really is. He’s probably the most effective player in our league. He just does so much to help their team.”

Miami shot 54.5 percent from outside to North Carolina’s 44.8 percent. The teams combined for a record-tying 3-point display with 25. Hairston hit six of the Tar Heels’ 13, but wasn’t a factor down the stretch.

“The main thing we wanted to do is not give him any looks at the goal,” said Miami guard Rion Brown, who eventually slowed him. “If there were any screens, we wanted to switch it and switch it hard out on him so he couldn’t get a look at the basket. Most of the time when I switched out on him, I just tried to pressure him as much as I could to make him give it up or put it on the floor.”

Brown finished with 12 points for the Hurricanes. Trey McKinney Jones, with 20 points, and Durham’s Julian Gamble, with 11 points, joined Brown and Larkin in double figure scoring.

“That goes to show you that you have to pick your poison and on any given night, any guy can go off,” said Gamble. “It’s big-time players making big-time plays.”

Both teams enter this week’s NCAA Tournament playing perhaps their best basketball of the season. Miami lost three of four down the stretch, including disappointing losses at Wake Forest and at home to Georgia Tech.

Now it seems the Hurricanes have regained their form, even if some may doubt their chances at reaching the Final Four in Atlanta.

“We made a statement, but I still think people are going to say, the ACC is weak,” said Miami center Reggie Johnson. “Now that we won, the ACC is weak. But if Duke wins, the ACC is a better conference. We made a statement that we’re going to be here for real, and we’re trying to get to the Georgia Dome.”
 
Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.