North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams was frustrated with his starters after watching them simply go through the motions and miss one shot after another Thursday night.
Having seen enough, Williams made a change. A big change.
He benched his all five starters and asked his bench to provide a spark — and actually score a point.
His plan worked as the Tar Heels withstood the slump, the starters found their groove and 12th-ranked and sixth-seeded North Carolina pulled away for an 82-65 win against 3-seed Miami in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Theo Pinson scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels (24-9), who earned their second win in as many days and set up a highly anticipated rematch with fifth-ranked Duke (26-6) in the semifinals. They’ll face off at 9 p.m. ET Friday.
The longtime rivals have split the first two meetings this season, with the Blue Devils earning a 74-64 win last Saturday.
A horrible start
North Carolina’s offense looked completely out of sync in the opening minutes against Miami (22-9). Things couldn’t have gone much worse.
It was a surprise after how effective the Tar Heels were a day earlier in cruising to a 78-59 win over Syracuse in their first game of the ACC Tournament.
North Carolina’s starters combined to miss their first 13 shots as Miami scored the first 14 points of the game.
Luke Maye missed shots. Joel Berry II couldn’t get the offense into a rhythm. And nothing seemed to work against the Hurricanes, who had their own offensive troubles early on despite the big lead.
The Tar Heels didn’t score their first points until backup guard Seventh Woods made a layup with 12 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the first half. It came as a relief for Williams, who watched his starters respond once they returned to the court.
Despite the ugly start, North Carolina managed to erase the entire deficit and carry a 32-31 lead into halftime after Cameron Johnson made all 3 of his free throws after being fouled on a 60-foot shot with less than a second remaining in the first half.
Maye, Berry, Johnson and guard Kenny Williams combined to make only 4 of 24 in the first half, including 1 of 12 on 3-point attempts.
Johnson finished with 13 points, Williams and Berry had 11 each.
Theo Pinson’s consistency
Pinson continued to be the reliable, do-it-all senior for the Tar Heels. He was also their only bright spot in the first half.
While North Carolina’s four other starters struggled to make shots, Pinson was steady as usual. He hit 3 of 4 shots and scored 6 points to go along with 5 rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
He picked up the pace in the second half, emerging as a go-to scorer on a night when North Carolina desperately needed one.
Pinson scored 19 points in the second half and finished the game 9 of 12 from the floor. He made both of his 3-point attempts and all but 1 of his 6 free throws.
The forward again showed his ability to make plays on both ends of the floor, recording 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 block to cap another strong all-around performance.
Luke Maye’s forgettable night
Maye has been one of North Carolina’s more consistent players this season, making great strides from last season and providing leadership as an upperclassmen.
But Thursday didn’t go well at all for him.
Maye had one of his worst games of the season, missing all 5 of his 3-point attempts and making just 1 of his 15 shots from the floor overall. He finished with just 2 points.
The All-ACC forward tried to make up for his poor shooting with 13 rebounds, including 5 offensive boards.
Still, Maye will look to bounce back against Duke.
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