Despite a valiant effort from Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier, the Miami Hurricanes could not complete the comeback against No. 3 North Carolina as they fell 75-72 at home.
A sold-out Watsco Center was on its feet until the final buzzer. Miami battled to the end and had a chance to tie the game with a Pack three-pointer with just nine seconds remaining. Pack’s three fell short; from there, it was virtually over.
“We came down, and went and played ball screen and saw the switch, I was feeling the rhythm,” said Pack. “Saw (Bacot) kind of retreat back on his heels and I just took the shot.”
Pack and Omier were the driving force of Miami’s offense, as the junior duo finished with 20 points a piece. The two players combined for 34 of Miami’s 41 points during the first half. The ‘Canes struggled to get anyone going outside of those two.
Miami missed the presence of freshman standout Kyshawn George. The Swiss native is a strong on-ball defender who the ‘Canes could have used in trying to guard North Carolina’s talented guards.
Miami’s second-leading scorer, coming into the contest, had a challenging game. Junior Matthew Cleveland finished with just 7 points on 3-6 shooting. Cleveland could not answer the call in a game where Miami needed someone besides Pack and Omier to score.
Poplar, who came into the game questionable with a lower-body injury, also did not play up to his usual standard. With the injury hampering his game, Poplar finished with 13 points total but just 1-6 from three-point range and 5-13 overall.
The inconstant offense correlated with the inconsistent play on defense. UNC jumped out to quick leads in the first and the second half. In the first half, it was a 15-4 run, and in the second, it was a 15-4 run. Both times, Miami battled back.
“Carolina was able to establish their game very very quickly,” said coach Jim Larrañaga. “They had 15 points in the first five minutes, our defense did get better, and we got back and started scoring. We always play much better defense when we start scoring. Nijel hit some shots, Norchad started attacking the basket and we were able to fight back.”
Miami took its first lead since the start of the game as Poplar converted an and-one layup to give Miami a 35-33. The Hurricanes were able to carry that lead and that momentum into halftime.
A large section of North Carolina fans made their presence felt to cheer on the road team. There was much to cheer for as UNC’s talented frontcourt duo played well in Coral Gables. Senior RJ Davis, who averages 21.3 points per game, scored 25 points and was an elite 5-11 from beyond the arc. North Carolina’s freshman stud Elliott Cadeau added another 19 points and dished out eight assists for the Tar Heels.
Down low was a different story. Armando Bacot, UNC’s big man who averages a double-double, was effectively shut down when Omier was on the court. Bacot finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds, but Omier did a fantastic job against the senior, who averages 14.3 points a night.
This was a winnable game for Miami. A brutal 14% shooting from three in the second half doomed the ‘Canes. This game was within reach, and Miami was not able to convert.
The ‘Canes will take to the road to battle with the Clemson Tigers, who beat UNC last week. The matchup will be the second time Miami plays the Tigers this season. Miami won the first one and will hope to do it again next Wednesday night. Tip-off for this ACC test will be at 7:00 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN2.
All stats and data via ESPN and StatsBroadcast.com unless otherwise noted.