Defense powers Heels over Miami in ACC quarterfinals

David Welker, ACC,
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David Welker, ACC,

David Kehrli

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Roy Williams has pleaded his sixth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels to play defense all season long.

The Heels (26-6) finally did exactly that Thursday afternoon against Miami in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournament.

Stifling defense and 19 points from Isaiah Hicks propelled Carolina to a 78-53 victory over the Hurricanes (21-10) at Barclays Center.

UNC held Miami to its season-worst shooting percentage of 36 percent, which left the Canes with no shot against a potent Carolina offense that shot 53 percent from the field.

“As Coach always said, he never seen a team make it that far without playing defense,” Hicks said.

“I would say that should be our biggest focus, and it shows, when we start really amping it up on defense, that’s when we start to make the run. That’s when we start to take the lead.”

The Heels put on a defensive clinic for part of the first half, holding the Hurricanes without a field goal for almost a seven-minute period.

Miami stayed in the game by outrebounding the top rebounding team in the country 13-12 in the first half, limiting Carolina to just two offensive rebounds – a place where UNC gets a large percentage of its points.

Despite its opening half struggles, Miami finished on a 7-0 run in the final 50 seconds to head to the break 34-29.

Carolina took complete control in the second half, as its defense got even tougher and the bigs hit the glass harder.

“Second half, I thought we played well,” Williams said.

“First half, they outrebounded us by one. Second half, we outrebounded them by eight. One of the things we wanted to do was do a better job on the backboards, to say the least.”

After just two points in the first half, ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson added 10 points in the second.

The Heels were firing on all cylinders on the offensive end, assisting on 21 of their 28 made field goals.

Hicks finished the game with 19 points on 5-for-7 shooting, six rebounds and two assists.

“I thought Isaiah was active,” Williams said.

“We needed to get the ball inside. We needed to do a better job in the paint. They beat us badly last time. 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. But Isaiah was huge for us, and I think that was really good.”

Joel Berry II and Kennedy Meeks also scored in double figures for the Tar Heels.

Bruce Brown (21 points, 7 rebounds) was the only Miami player in double figures scoring.

UNC returns to action Friday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament against Duke.