By Russell Hanson
Coral Gables- The Miami Hurricanes fought hard but fell just short yet again, falling 85 – 76 to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Cameron Johnson (UNC) led all scorers with 22 points followed closely by Chris Lykes who had 20.
Anthony Lawrence ended the game with 18 points while Zach Johnson added 17 points, five rebounds, and three assists. DJ Vasiljevic had a quiet night going 1-5 from the field for three points. Izundu, after only two first half points, ended the day with 13 points to go with eight rebounds.
UNC Senior Luke Maye came one rebound short of a double-double scoring 14 points. The Tar Heels had five players in double digits: Johnson (22), Williams (16), White (15), Maye (14), and Nassir Little (12).
Carolina’s 60% shooting in the second half was their highest of season while the Hurricanes only went 27-55 (49.1%) for the game. “Did they miss a shot in the second half?” quipped Coach Larranaga as he sat down for the post-game press conference. “When it came down to the last 8-10 minutes, Carolina was rolling, and we were drained.” Depth issues have plagued the Hurricanes all year and today’s game was no different.
When asked about Cameron Johnson and his huge shots down the stretch, Coach L responded, “Cameron Johnson on that [shot] he hit over Chris Lykes, I turned to my bench and said ‘wow that was nasty’ cause you don’t expect to have to guard a guy who’s 6’9”…he was beyond NBA range he was closer to mid court than he was the foul line.”
Coach Roy Williams had high praise for Chris Lykes and Anthony Lawrence saying, “Speed and quickness. I mean, my gosh and he can shoot from the outside, drive the ball to the basket. He’s a complete player. He ended up with 18. Anthony [Lawrence] was big for them, too. 3-for-4 from the 3-point line. He was a bad match up for us as well when we had two big guys in there. Chris is just so quick and clever with the ball. He’s hard to keep in front of you and yet, look there and he played 36 minutes. Zach [Johnson] played 35 minutes. They got major minutes for those guys.”
The Canes opened the game 2-7 while UNC made their first 4 shots to build an 8-3 lead. The Hurricanes fought back with stingy defense and Anthony Lawrence hit a three to tie the game at eight with 15:39 left in the first half. Anthony Lawrence continued to assert himself as he scored 11 of the Canes’ first 13 points.
In what figured to be a battle, Izundu and Luke Maye fought hard early with Maye picking up two early fouls. With this in mind, Miami continued to attack the rim and found themselves leading 21-19 as the clock ticked under 11 minutes. The Tar Heels managed to pull ahead but after drawing an offensive foul, Chris Lykes hit back to back threes to put the Hurricanes back up 27-25 with 7 minutes left in the first half.
The game continued to go back and forth as a Cobe White three followed by a Kenny Williams three put the Tar Heels back in front by four. In the midst of an almost three-minute scoring drought for the Canes, Zach Johnson got to the free throw line, hitting both. This brought the score to 32-29 with under five minutes remaining. Miami then forced a turnover and Johnson followed with an acrobatic layup to pull within one. DJ Vasiljevic’s following three put the Canes up by two before UNC answered right back with a three of their own.
With under two minutes to go and the Canes down by two, Chris Lykes hit an extremely tough layup to bring the score to 37-36 before Zach Johnson got back to the free throw line. Johnson hit one of two to tie the game.
In what should’ve been the final possession of the first half, Miami forced UNC into a turnover to get the ball back with 2.3 seconds before halftime. Miami failed to capitalize as Cobe White intercepted the inbound pass sending the teams to the locker room tied at 37.
UNC came out firing in the second half as they converted an alley-oop followed by a huge dunk by Nassir Little to give UNC a three-point lead. The Tar Heels lead ballooned to eight before Anthony Lawrence stopped the bleeding for the Canes.
A Cameron Johnson (UNC) three put the Tar Heels up nine which was their largest lead up to that point. Not to be outdone, Chris Lykes immediately responded with a three of his own. Following the three Zach Johnson was fouled on his way to the rim. He hit one of two to get Miami back within five.
After a largely ineffective first half, Izundu came alive in the second half scoring some key buckets and defending the rim. The Watsco Center came alive as Lykes scored a layup followed by an Izundu block. Izundu then, on the ensuing possession, converted an and-1 opportunity to bring the Hurricanes within one, 66-65.
Cameron Johnson responded for UNC with a huge contested three which prompted an eruption from the large Tar Heel contingent. Zach Johnson, in an attempt to end someone’s life, went up to dunk over three Tar Heels but was fouled. He converted both but UNC answered with a three, yet again.
The Hurricanes made multiple efforts to grab the momentum back and right when they started too, Kenny Williams hit yet ANOTHER three to keep the Tar Heels just out of reach. The Tar Heels made five of six shots over a stretch of five minutes and countered every punch the Canes threw.
Miami continued to stick around and not let Carolina pull away, staying within ten despite the onslaught from the Tar Heels. Kenny Williams carried the Tar Heels down the stretch and ended the game with 16 points.
Depth bit the Canes yet again as they fought hard but ran out of gas towards the end of the game. The final score from Coral Gables, Tar Heels 85 Hurricanes 76.
Miami will return to action Thursday January 24th at 8pm against the
Syracuse Orange in New York.
Photo: Chris Lykes/sunsentinal.com