UNC can’t recover from historically bad first half at Miami

By R.L. Bynum

Carolina hoped that the phrase “historically bad” would have been retired after the Tar Heels’ losing season of two years ago but they made it sadly relevant at Coral Gables, Fla., on Tuesday night.

As UNC tried to forget the nightmare losses to Tennessee and Kentucky, the Tar Heels added another forgettable effort in an 85–57 loss against a red-hot Miami team.

Carolina went to south Florida hoping to make its claim as one of the ACC’s upper-tier teams but left wondering how a gut-wrenching loss could happen again.

“At times throughout the year, I feel like there has been a change in mentality and effort and in toughness, and then we have a game like this,” Coach Hubert Davis said. “Just very disappointed. Very disappointed in our fight, competitiveness, our effort.”

When games go awry early like Tuesday’s game did, player leadership can help a team overcome it and rally. Davis said that no such leader has yet emerged and, to be a good team, he has to have leadership.

“There has to be somebody outside of myself, outside of the coaching staff that has a voice in the locker room that’s amongst the players that binds us together,” Davis said. “I’ve never seen a good team absent of that. At this moment, we do not have any, and that’s something that needs to change. That has to change and must change. And my hope is that it will change. But, at the moment, we do not have any.”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Armando Bacot landed on his tailbone and an elbow with five minutes left in the game and was writhing in pain before walking off slowly. Even after being held to three first-half points, he was one of the few bright spots with 15 points and 12 rebounds for his eighth consecutive double-double.

Davis said that he is hopeful that Bacot will only be sore and that he didn’t suffer an injury.

Sloppy passing, bad shooting and bad defense combined for a long night for Carolina (12–5, 4–2 ACC) and another impressive win for Miami (14–4, 6–1) to end a five-game skid against the Tar Heels. It’s hard to win when the opponent scores 30 points off turnovers.

“We didn’t play Carolina basketball tonight,” said RJ Davis, who had nine points, no assists and four turnovers. “Plain and simple. There’s no beating around the bush.

“We just have to change our whole mindset,” he said. “There are no walk-in-the-park kind of games. There are no easy games for us. That’s our main thing moving forward. Something’s got to change.”

The Tar Heels have already done something that the 14–19 team in 2019–20 didn’t do: lose two games by at least 28 points, after falling to Kentucky by 29. In 2019–20, the worst losses were by 25 against Ohio State and 28 against Syracuse.

UNC hasn’t lost two games by at least 28 points since the 2001–02 season against Maryland and Kentucky. That team, of course, went 9–21.

An 11-point halftime deficit against Kentucky seemed bad until the Tar Heels found themselves trailing by a program-high-tying 27 after 20 minutes. They also trailed by 27 in an 82–50 loss at Duke on March 6, 2010. Carolina had never trailed Miami by more than 26 points (in an 87-61 loss at Coral Gables on Feb. 9, 2013) before Tuesday.

The 69 points against the Wildcats seemed like a bad night until Carolina scored a season-low 57 Tuesday.

Miami’s defense made UNC start its offense so far away from the basket that passing inside became high-risk and led to 10 first-half turnovers. At the other end, Miami shot 58.1% from the floor and 57.1% from 3-point range in the first half, with Sam Waardenburg scoring 17 of his game-high 21 points and four of his five 3-pointers.

Isaiah Wong led the Canes with 25 points and Kameron McGusty added 20 as they went 13 of 28 from 3-point range.

“Everything that Miami did tonight, it was practiced, it was drilled, it was talked about, it was scouted,” said Coach Davis, who told them before the game that they were in position to be atop the league. “We were prepared; we just didn’t play. And the frustrating part was that we were prepared. And, at the moment, I’m not sure why we didn’t play.”

After Carolina jumped to a 5–2 lead, Miami forced five UNC turnovers during a 14–0 run with a pair of Waardenburg 3-pointers to give the Canes a 16–5 edge with 14:10 left in the first half. Carolina went nearly five minutes without a field goal before Manek’s 3-pointer cut it to 20–11 with 12:34 left.

“We just had to tell each other in the huddle that it begins with us and we have to compete together,” RJ Davis said of the mood in the first timeout of the game. “That’s the only way; we had to keep chipping away. They’re a great team and it was not our night tonight.”

A 10–0 Miami run made it 30–11 before a Love 3-pointer ended a four-minute UNC scoring drought, but the Canes led 49–22 at halftime after holding UNC to 22.6% shooting.

“One of the things that we wanted to do was to keep them out of the paint and Miami has some dynamic guards and they were able to get to the basket and really get some shots in the paint,” Coach Davis said. “One of the things that we talked about is being in the gaps to stop them from their dribble drive because they’re really good at attacking the basket. And, so, in the first half, they were able to attack the basket extremely well.”

Carolina played Miami evenly in the second half but it didn’t matter after the terrible first half. It was just a matter of how bad the final margin would be.

UNC’s Anthony Harris, as the school termed it, was “unavailable” for a second consecutive game.

UNC plays another road ACC game Saturday at 8 p.m., visiting Wake Forest (ACC Network). The Deacons (14–4, 4–3) won Saturday at Virginia 63–55 and visits Georgia Tech at 7 Wednesday night (ESPNU).

Directors’ Cup standings

ACC standings

UNC season statistics

DateScore, record/
day, time, TV
(current ranking)
November (4–2)
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1–0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2–0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3–0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 7 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 22 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
1180–63 win, 7–2HomeElon
1474–61 win, 8–2HomeFurman
1898–69 loss, 8–3Las VegasZ — No. 18 Kentucky
2170–50 win, 9–3HomeAppalachian State
January (3–2, 3–2 ACC)
291–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACCRoadBoston College
578–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACCRoadNotre Dame
874–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACCHomeVirginia
1588–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACCHomeGeorgia Tech
1885–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACCRoadMiami
22Saturday, 8, ACCNRoadWake Forest
24Monday, 8, ACCNHomeVirginia Tech
26Wednesday, 7, RSNHomeBoston College
29Saturday, 2, ACCNHomeN.C. State
1Tuesday, 8, ACC NetworkRoadLouisville
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeNo. 8 Duke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadVirginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadNo. 8 Duke
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
RSN — regional sports networks; ACCN — ACC Network; X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge;
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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