CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- For the first time all year, Wayne Ellington couldn't miss. It made North Carolina's offense finally look as potent as everyone expected.
Tyler Hansbrough added 24 points for the Tar Heels (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP), who used a 13-0 run to end the first half and push ahead for good. But it was Ellington, who had struggled with his shot much of the season, who got North Carolina (16-2, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) rolling with a dazzling shooting display that turned a close game into a rout.
After a scoreless first half, Ellington hit eight straight shots with a career-high seven of those coming from behind the arc. Once the junior got hot, North Carolina pushed the lead to 20 points on the way to evening its league record.
It was the performance coach Roy Williams, his teammates and North Carolina's fans had waited for all year.
"I've been waiting myself," Ellington said. "I just continued to have faith and confidence in my shot. I knew sooner or later it was going to come. I feel like now that I'm in the groove, I'll be good for the rest of the season."
Ellington's shot just hadn't been what most expected this season. He fell from 47 percent last year to 43 percent this year, while his 3-point shooting had dropped from 40 percent to 35 percent coming into the game. It was no coincidence that his scoring had fallen nearly four points per game as well, robbing the Tar Heels of their top perimeter threat to complement Hansbrough inside.
But all that frustration vanished with a torrid 9½-minute stretch against the Hurricanes (13-4, 2-2).
After missing his only two shots of the first half and first two of the second, he got on the board by sticking back his own miss for a 41-36 lead.
Then came a 3. Then another on the next possession. And another on the next trip down.
Ellington's third 3 gave North Carolina a 50-43 lead and started the decisive 21-5 run. But Ellington kept going, burying two more 3s before rattling one home over the outstretched arms of Lance Hurdle on a screen with 9:22 to play. By the time he launched his seventh 3, fans and students were already standing with their arms outstretched to signal the shot would be good.
"He was opening up the lead for us really and it was kind of making them lose their confidence defensively," said Danny Green, who had 12 points.
"It definitely has been missed. We know what he's capable of doing and what he's here for: He's here to shoot the ball and shoot it well. Lately he hasn't been doing it as much. He's had his moments, but we know how consistent he can be."
Ellington's seven 3s were the most by a Tar Heel since Rashad McCants hit eight against Clemson in 2004. He finished 8-for-14 from the field and 7-for-11 from 3-point range. Before Saturday, he hadn't hit more than two 3s since the third game of the season and had yet to crack the 20-point mark.
He had hit eight 3s in the previous six games combined.
"It was fun to see that youngster have some success because it's been tough on him," Williams said. "Nobody's wanted to make shots more than he has and he's worked at it and kept a wonderful attitude and tried to do things to help us in other ways."
Jack McClinton had 21 points for the Hurricanes, who led by nine in the first half and trailed by just four with 17 minutes left before Ellington's outburst.
"You can't let him get open looks," McClinton said. "I think he made three 3s in a row and that really got him going. And from there, it was all she wrote."
Ellington's performance completely overshadowed Hansbrough's 20 first-half points, the reigning national player of the year's 11th 20-point game in 14 outings.
Behind McClinton's fast start, Miami led 32-23 on James Dews' stepback jumper with 6:45 to play. But that's when the Tar Heels began to show some of the desperate intensity that has been lacking recently, starting when Ty Lawson hounded McClinton near midcourt until knocking the ball loose, diving for it in the backcourt and passing it to Hansbrough for a breakaway dunk.
That was the first big play in North Carolina's 13-0 run to close the half, which included a 3-pointer from Green just before the horn that gave the Tar Heels a 36-32 lead.
Miami missed its final nine shots of the half.