Not once but twice, senior guard Ty Lawson ripped the heart right out of the Miami Hurricanes to seal the victory for third-ranked North Carolina, 69-65.
With the shot clock winding down, Lawson hit a clutch 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give the Tar Heels (23-2, 9-2) a 67-63 lead.
After a quick layup by senior guard Jack McClinton put the score at 67-65, Lawson hit a pair of free throws and closed the lid on Miami’s quest for a second consecutive upset against a top-10 opponent at home.
“Lawson’s three was unbelievable,” head coach Frank Haith said. “It was deep. It beat us. He was good. Lawson was on a roll.”
All-American senior forward Tyler Hansbrough, who was limited to just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, didn’t have to score to make one of the biggest plays of the game. With 44 seconds left, Hansbrough took an offensive charge from senior forward Brian Asbury.
“It was a big play,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “We were lucky. Ty made three baskets in a row [which] was huge for us. Tonight North Carolina was luckier than Miami.”
Although Haith called Hansbrough a “Miami killer” due to his big scoring nights over the past three seasons, it was Lawson’s 21 points and a career-high five 3-pointers that crushed the Canes (15-9, 4-7).
“Tough loss,” Haith said. “We competed. They played their butts off. They fought hard the whole game. It didn’t go our way.”
McClinton put up a season-high 35 points on 13-of-25 shooting and hit seven 3-pointers. It was the most points North Carolina had allowed a player to score all season.
Over the past three games, the Baltimore, Md., native has averaged 33 points.
“In 55 years in the history of the ACC, he is the leading man in history for 3-pointers,” Williams said. “That tells you something. That’s how good he is.”
Still, McClinton would rather be in the win column.
“Points don’t matter,” he said. “I’d rather score two and win. We’ve got to believe. I don’t care about scoring. All it comes down to is winning. We were right there.”
The Hurricanes had to rally after a 3-pointer by junior guard Wayne Ellington put North Carolina up, 54-40. McClinton then scored eight straight points for the Canes and a three by Asbury cut the Tar Heels’ lead to one at 58-57.
Unfortunately for Miami, Lawson took over and scored the last 11 points for the boys in Carolina blue. On back-to-back possessions, the guard answered Hurricane 3-pointers with ones of his own.
“It hurts. It really does hurt,” said senior forward Jimmy Graham, who had a career-high 15 points and tied a career-high with five blocks. “It was a tough loss. We have had a lot of tough losses this year.”
Junior forward Dwayne Collins was unable to play with a sprained ankle, which he rolled on a teammate’s foot at the end of Saturday’s practice. Before last night’s game, he had played in every game since becoming a Hurricane and started 62 of them.
Without Collins in the post, the Canes resorted to shooting 29 3-pointers.
Initially, the Hurricanes got off to the start they were looking for by jumping out to a 7-0 lead, five of which came from McClinton’s hot hand. The Tar Heels stormed back and took the lead going into the half, 29-26.
Miami heads into the home stretch with five games remaining before the ACC tournament. The Canes will travel to face off against rival and 25th-ranked Florida State (19-6, 6-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“We’ve got to keep working at it,” Haith said. “We’ve got to keep fighting. It is tough. We are in still in it.”