CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (SportsDirect Inc.) — No. 4 North Carolina doesn’t have any time to feel sorry for itself after its painful loss to rival Duke on Wednesday with first place in the ACC on the line Saturday afternoon when it hosts co-leader and 10th-ranked Miami (Fla.).
The Tar Heels dropped a 74-73 decision at home despite Brice Johnson’s 29 points and 19 rebounds, after leading most of the night and playing a short-handed Blue Devils team.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams took some of the blame for the loss, saying he should have called timeout in the final seconds when the Tar Heels, down by one point, got possession of the ball and ended up settling for an off-balance jump shot by sophomore guard Joel Berry II that failed to fall.
Perhaps more frustrating was the inability to get the ball to Johnson, who finished 13-of-17 from the field but didn’t touch ball on his team’s final two possessions.
The Hurricanes dominated Virginia Tech in the second half on Wednesday night to win 65-49 and set up a showdown for first place.
“The game against Miami might be the biggest game of the year for us,” North Carolina senior Marcus Paige told reporters shortly after his team’s demoralizing loss. “It shouldn’t be too hard to get motivated.”
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS
ABOUT MIAMI (21-4, 10-3 ACC): Senior guard Sheldon McClellan, who leads the Hurricanes in scoring (16.1 on 52.1 percent shooting), has come up big against the best – averaging 17.3 points on 57.1 percent shooting against the five ranked foes Miami has beaten. The ability of senior point guard Angel Rodriguez (11.5 points, 4.4 assists) to hit from the perimeter and get into the lane are keys to Miami’s hopes. Sophomore Ja’Quan Newton (11.4 points) will play after missing the Virginia Tech game while defensive-minded senior center Tonye Jekiri (8.2, 9.6 rebounds) will face the challenge of slowing down Johnson.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (21-5, 10-3): Johnson leads the Tar Heels in scoring (16.9 points per game), is first in the ACC in field goal percentage (62.3) and tied for first in rebounds (10.4). Paige (12.7 points, 3.7 assists) has struggled with his previously reliable 3-point shot, hitting 34.5 percent this season after making 39.5 percent from behind the arc in 2014-15. The Tar Heels have no shortage of scoring options with sophomore forward Justin Jackson (12.1), sophomore guard Berry (12.0, 4.0 assists) and junior forward Kennedy Meeks (10.3) also all averaging in double figures.
1. Seven different players have led the Tar Heels in scoring in at least one game this season.
2. While this game is for first place in the ACC, there are four other teams – Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and Duke – within one game of the top spot in the league.
3. North Carolina leads the series between the teams 19-6 but Miami is 4-3 since Jim Larranaga became the team’s head coach.
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