No. 5 North Carolina responded to its deflating 74-73 loss to Duke on Wednesday by taking sole possession of first place in the ACC with its 96-71 clubbing of No. 11 Miami. Make no mistake, the Tar Heels needed a good performance, a win even, to erase the memory of that poor performance down the stretch of their loss.
The way they responded was without a doubt their best outing this season. Carolina played to the potential many believed it had when the Heels started the preseason ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Carolina came out more focused and engaged from the start of the game, and that has to be attributed to its loss to Duke.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams made several tweaks to the lineup to ensure change. He gave Isaiah Hicks his third start of the season, replacing Kennedy Meeks in the lineup. The move didn’t suggest a greater message being sent -- Meeks was back on the floor less than three minutes into the game -- but it was a reward for Hicks.
Meeks hasn’t been the same since returning from a knee bruise that caused him to miss seven games, including the first three conference games. Hicks teaming with Brice Johnson in the frontcourt makes Carolina better defensively without losing anything on offense.
Williams also used Marcus Paige a bit more as point guard than he previously played this season. Paige has struggled with his shot during ACC play, and this was a way to get him more involved offensively.
Shooting with confidence
The Heels went 1-for-13 from 3-point range against Duke. They entered the game shooting a conference-worst 26.8 percent from behind the arc, and it was the one glaring offensive weakness that could potentially keep them from a long postseason run. The way they shot against the Hurricanes -- 9-for-20 from 3-point range -- that narrative will be put to rest, at least temporarily.
Miami not done
As well as Carolina played, the Hurricanes will still have something to say about the league race. Miami plays Virginia, Louisville and Notre Dame in consecutive games before closing the season against Virginia Tech. The Heels had to win that game and played with desperation. For the Hurricanes, they can simply view it as a road loss, burn the game tape of their performance and attempt to close out the season strong.