North Carolina 74, Miami 71
By Antonio Gonzalez
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The North Carolina Tar Heels started slowly, as if still rattled by a bumpy, scary descent when their plane landed in a Miami thunderstorm.
After a turbulent first half Wednesday, they came through at the finish, when Harrison Barnes sank a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left to beat the luckless Miami Hurricanes 74-71.
The Hurricanes have lost their past three games by a total of seven points. The latest defeat came despite their scoring 16 consecutive points in the first half to take a 14-point lead.
“To say we feel very fortunate would be an understatement,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We feel as lucky as we can possibly be.”
The Tar Heels (14-5 overall, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won seven consecutive games against Miami (12-8, 1-5).
Barnes sank a 15-footer with 1:09 left to tie the score for the 11th time, at 71, and when the Hurricanes’ Reggie Johnson missed an inside shot, the Tar Heels got the ball back.
Following a timeout with 14 seconds to go, Kendall Marshall took the ball on the point and found Barnes along the right sideline.
“He’s a special kind of player,” Marshall said. “He wants the ball at crunch time and wants to put us on his back.”
Defender Garrius Adams slipped and fell, giving Barnes room to shoot. The freshman’s attempt went swish.
“You just have to catch it in rhythm and let it go,” Barnes said. “That frees your mind a little bit.”
Miami’s Malcolm Grant missed a 3-point try with one second left that would have forced overtime.
It was a sequence all too familiar for the Hurricanes, who in the past eight days also suffered two-point losses against Florida State and North Carolina State.
“In 25 years, I’ve never been in a stretch where we had three straight games come down to the last possession,” coach Frank Haith said. “And they didn’t go our way. It’s tough.”
Barnes was held scoreless for the first 18 minutes but finished with 13 points. Dexter Strickland missed only one shot and scored 12 for North Carolina.
The victory made the trip worth it for the Tar Heels after a frightening arrival in Miami on Tuesday night.
“WOW!!” Strickland tweeted at the time. “I really just had flashes of death on this plane! This plane ride just (scarred) me for life!!”
“There was a little praying and screaming going on as a unit,” Barnes said. “It was probably the most exhilarating plane ride of my life.”
Miami made the game exciting, too. The Hurricanes sank four shots in a row — all 3-pointers — during a spurt that put them up 18-4 after less than 7 minutes. Johnson capped the run with a dunk — his third basket.
Miami had six 3-pointers before North Carolina made one, but Haith expected the Tar Heels to charge back.
“You’re playing a high-level team,” he said. “You know they’re going to make their run.”
The Tar Heels did, scoring on 19 of 22 possessions to get back in the game. They made six shots in a row during a 13-2 run that cut Miami’s lead to 31-29, and finally pulled even at 39 on Barnes’ 3-pointer, a buzzer-beater to end the half.
“It’s nice to know I can hit the last shot,” Barnes said. “Now I have to focus on being more productive the entire game.”
While the first half was a roller coaster, the second half was a seesaw, with 13 lead changes. Durand Scott sank both ends of a one-and-one with 2 minutes remaining to make the score 69-all, and Grant’s two free throws put Miami ahead 71-69.
But the Hurricanes went without a basket over the final 4:14.
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