GREENSBORO – If someone hit another 3-pointer midway through the second half, the officials might just have blown the whistle and substituted a multi-colored ball worth an extra point into the game.
Instead of continuing its 3-point contest with North Carolina, Miami opted to match the Tar Heels in another facet: The Hurricanes gave up their massive size advantage and went small.
The Hurricanes’ defense turned up.
The nets went down.
Miami shut down North Carolina in the most important moment of the season thus far, defeating the Tar Heels, 87-77, in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“(North) Carolina was unbelievable in the first half and maybe even more unbelievable in the first 10 or 12 minutes of the second half ” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We don’t normally go small for that length of time, but I just felt we had to.”
Miami (27-6) outscored North Carolina, 29-14, in the final 10:22 of regulation, during which time the Tar Heels shot 5-for-15 from the field as Miami overtook the lead thanks to a lineup of four guards and forward Julian Gamble.
The game featured an ACC Tournament championship game record 25 made 3-pointers, 10 ties and 15 lead changes.
After James Michael McAdoo hit a shot to give North Carolina (24-10) a five-point lead with 10:52 remaining, Miami went on a 14-4 that included three made triples, and led the rest of the game.
“It was a veteran group that made some big-time shots,” North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock said of Miami. “… They basically just did a great job of capitalizing on our mistakes.”
Miami became the first team in nearly 30 years besides Duke or North Carolina to win both the ACC regular season and tournament championship.
Both are firsts for the school, which was accepted into the league before the 2004-05 season.
Miami point guard Shane Larkin tied a game-high with 28 points, and added seven assists, five rebounds and two steals.
Trey McKinney-Jones hit six 3-pointers and scored 20 points for the Hurricanes, who finished 12-for-22 from behind the arc.
P.J. Hairston also made six 3-pointers. He scored 28 points to lead North Carolina.
“I have no problem with my team. I have nothing to complain about with my team (Sunday),” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I’m unbelievably proud of what they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve come. Everybody was abandoning ship earlier but I’m really proud of the way my team played (Sunday).”
North Carolina, which lost by 26 to Miami earlier this season and was barely over .500 in the ACC only a month ago, had won eight of nine games before Sunday.
The Tar Heels were disappointed to have missed out on a chance to win the conference tournament, but took solace in how well they played against the best team in the league.
“We had a really great opportunity to earn a ring, win the ACC Tournament championship,” said North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige, who scored 17 points. “They probably outplayed us for the last five, six minutes of the game, but other than that, it was a dogfight.”
Hairston said the team was embarrassed by what Miami did to them in Coral Gables, Fla.
“I think it started last night when we started watching film,” Hairston said. “Everyone, I’m not the only that can say this, it frustrated us to see them – they were having fun against us. So we wanted to come out (Sunday) and just play with an intensity we haven’t played with against Miami, that Miami hadn’t seen.”
The Tar Heels did that, and hung with Miami, even at a torrid pace, until the final few minutes.
Many will point to North Carolina’s addition of Hairston in the starting lineup as the spark that changed the Tar Heels’ year, but Williams looked at the big picture.
The reality, he said, is that North Carolina improved at every spot, and that’s why it will be playing in the NCAA Tournament this week.
“I think the lineup change was just something that happened. (People) talk too much about coaching,” Williams said. “Every one of my players got better. That was the biggest deal, each individual individual got better in what we were trying to get him to do. That was a bigger story to me than a lineup change.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com