Criticized throughout his four-year career as a Tar Heel for an inability to stay out of foul trouble, UNC senior forward Isaiah Hicks stepped up in a big way Thursday in Brooklyn during the team’s 78-53 win over Miami in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals.
Hicks led UNC with 19 points in the game, while grabbing six rebounds and committing just one foul. In a bit of poetic justice, the Oxford native did most of his damage offensively as a result of getting fouled himself–sinking all nine of his free throw attempts.
He also scored 13 of his 19 points in the first half, which helped UNC take a slim five-point lead into the locker room.
“If you go 9 for 9, that helps you with anything,” head coach Roy Williams said after the game. “I thought Isaiah was active. We needed to get the ball inside. We needed to do a better job in the paint.”
From there, the Tar Heels turned things into an all-around team beatdown–breaking Miami’s physical defense with unselfish passing and a deep arsenal of talented weapons.
The Tar Heels outscored the Hurricanes by a whopping 20 points in the second half–avenging a loss to Miami in late January by handing the bunch from South Florida its most lopsided defeat of the season on Thursday.
“They beat us badly last time,” Williams said. “It was embarrassing. I watched it yesterday. It was the worst two hours I’ve had recently.
“I think we were more motivated today after the way they manhandled us the last time,” the coach added. “But Isaiah was huge for us, and I think that was really good.”
ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson chipped in 12 points to the winning cause, while Joel Berry tallied 11 and Kennedy Meeks added 10.
UNC’s success moving the ball was made only more obvious when looking at the fact that it racked up 21 assists on 28 made shots. Do-it-all swingman Theo Pinson was the leader on that front, as he totaled six assists to go with his nine points.
To illustrate just how great of a day it was to be a Tar Heel, Pinson was credited with a three-pointer midway through the second half after an errant alley-oop pass found its way through the hoop.
For Miami, freshman guard Bruce Brown–who led head coach Jim Larranaga’s team with 21 points Thursday, after scoring 30 the last time these teams met–was just about the only bright spot.
The Tar Heels were able to hold the rest of the Hurricanes almost completely in check–as none of Brown’s teammates was able to reach double figures.
UNC also held Miami to just 36 percent shooting as a team, with the Hurricanes posting a remarkably inefficient 5-for-21 clip from beyond the arc.
The Tar Heels shook off a slow start, but didn’t show much rust after that–despite having two days off from earning a double-bye in the event.
In fact, UNC appeared more than capable of winning the conference regular season and tournament for the second straight year.
“We’re still playing,” Williams told reporters. “We like that.”
UNC will play the winner of Thursday’s game between Duke and Louisville in Friday’s first semifinal–which is set to begin at 7 p.m.
- Miami defeated UNC in both offensive rebounds (11-9) and second chance points (12-8), which typically are categories the Tar Heels have dominated in during their victories so far this season.
- The Tar Heels generated 21 points by way of 15 Miami turnovers.
- UNC also converted on 53 percent of its shots from the field (28-for-53)