In the college basketball world, March is synonymous with hope. It’s when scrappy teams take on proven juggernauts for a crack at their tiny sliver of history as fans from all over the country make the pilgrimage and hope to see something great.
For about one half of basketball in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals Thursday, No. 9 Miami was riding almost exclusively on that hope. That is, until No. 1 North Carolina’s skill took over.
After upsetting the Tar Heels by 15 points in the regular season, the Hurricanes could replicate no such magic at Barclays Center as North Carolina pulled away in the second half to beat Miami, 78-53.
North Carolina will play archrival Duke in the semifinals tonight at 7.
“They beat us badly last time,” UNC coach Roy Wil liams said of Miami. “It was embarrassing. I watched it yesterday. It was the worst two hours I’ve had recently. I think we were more motivated today after the way they manhandled us the last time. Isaiah [Hicks] was huge for us, and I think that was really good.”
Hicks led North Carolina (27-6) with 19 points and six rebounds. Miami’s Bruce Brown led all scorers with 21 points. Though Miami outrebounded North Carolina by one in the first half, the Tar Heels — a team known for its prowess on the boards — returned to form down the stretch, outrebounding Miami 36-29. They held the Hurricanes to 36 percent shooting, scored 21 points off 15 turnovers and had 21 assists on 28 field goals.
“We were up early, and [Miami] kind of brought it back with their efforts,” said Kennedy Meeks, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. “I just think that was the main thing for us, just to continue having great effort and trying to execute the best way we knew how to.”
Miami (21-11) nearly overcame an 11-point first-half deficit, drawing to within three early in the second half on Brooklyn native Kamari Murphy’s layup. But the Tar Heels scored 12 of the next 15 points and pulled away.
The Hurricanes still appear to be headed to a spot in the NCAA Tournament, while the Tar Heels might have what it takes for a shot at the national championship.
“Leaving the first half, we left the floor with a lot of confidence,” Murphy said. “But coming back, again, we couldn’t stop what they were doing. We knew what was coming, but they continued to attack us. And then on our end, we were hesitant. I’m not going to say we fell apart, but they just were the better team today.”