The University of North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Miami Hurricanes 82-65 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Thursday night in Brooklyn. The 17 point win was not indicative of how close this game was. The Canes frustrated Carolina for much of the night, but when it came time to make winning plays down the stretch, Tar Heels senior guard Theo Pinson stepped up. He finished with a career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds. He played a team-high 35 minutes and his team needed every single one of them.
The win avenged a heartbreaking loss about a week ago to these same Canes and sets up a semifinal matchup against arch-rival Duke on Friday night. The two teams split the regular season matchups, each winning on their own home floor. The rubber match will be for a slot in the ACC tournament finals. Regardless of the outcome, do the Heels have enough to make the Final Four?
Here are my five observations of the Tar Heels following Thursday’s win:
Joel Berry II
The senior point guard and “straw that stirs the drink” for the Heels has been anything but lately. He was 4-14 Thursday night, including 1-6 from deep. He’s played one good game in his last five, at that was against the Canes in that heartbreaking loss where he finished with 31 points on 11-17 from the field, including 5-8 from deep. For the Heels to recapture that postseason magic, Berry will have to regain the form he displayed through the early part of the season.
Pinson was the hero for the Tar Heels on Thursday night, but he’s been something of a revelation lately. Pinson has scored in double figures in eight straight games. His counting stats were eye-popping Thursday night but this has been a long time coming. Pinson was a 5-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school. Injuries derailed him early in his career, but Williams never gave up on him and it’s paying dividends. Pinson is adept at being a scorer or playmaker, and his long arms make him a nuisance on defense. Berry may be the “straw” that stirs, but Pinson is the ice in that drink.
When they want to be, the Tar Heels can be an excellent defensive team. They held the Canes to 37% shooting on Thursday night and out-rebounded them 52-41. The Canes found their way into the paint a little more than Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams would like, but Carolin’s length forced misses and they were able to grab the rebound. This will be critical not just Friday against Duke but as they hope to advance in the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels shot 36.5% for the year on threes, which is pretty good. They attempted and made the 4th most in the ACC this season. Thursday night they were a dreadful 24% from deep and finished with the same amount of makes as the Canes. If the Heels hope to make it to San Antonio in April, they’ll have to start shooting it more consistently. Speaking of consistency…
Maye’s story is well known by now. The former walk-on recruit is now a star on one of the best team’s in the country. He was not good Thursday night, finishing with 2 points on 1-15 from the field. He was active and helped contribute in other ways but he, like Berry, is such an emotional part of this Tar Heels team. The team’s energy is completely different when those guys are rolling. He needs to regain his form, starting Friday against Duke.
Berry, Pinson, and Maye are all seniors and have been here before. They have experienced the heartbreak of losing a national title on a buzzer beater and earning redemption last season. Situations won’t rattle this squad. As simple as it sounds, the Heels will return to the Final Four if these three seniors are playing their best basketball.