Canes Rally to Beat UNC in ACC Tournament Opener

Canes Rally to Beat UNC in ACC Tournament Opener

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

GREENSBORO, N.C. – More than once this season, they’ve shown their resiliency.

On Thursday afternoon in their ACC Tournament opener, the Hurricanes did it again.

Ninth-seeded Miami, keyed by 10-0 fourth-quarter run, overcame an early double-digit deficit to clinch a 60-59 win over eighth-seeded North Carolina in the tournament opener for both teams.

With the win, the Hurricanes (19-11) advance to Friday’s tournament quarterfinals where they will face top-seeded Virginia Tech (23-6).

Miami had four players finish in double figures, led by Shayeann Day-Wilson, who had a team-high 13 points.

Lazaria Spearman notched her fourth double-double of the season – and second straight – with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, Latasha Lattimore added 12 points and Ja’Leah Williams contributed 11 points, including three on a long first-half buzzer beater that gave the Hurricanes an emotional lift when they needed one.

The Hurricanes also had 16 second-chance points in the win, a number head coach Katie Meier said was essential in helping Miami secure the victory and bolster its NCAA Tournament resume.

Miami’s defense did its part, too, especially in the second half when it held North Carolina to just 3-of-15 from the field in the third quarter and 4-of-15 from the field in the fourth.

“That’s Miami basketball,” Meier said. “That’s why we’re an NCAA team. We always show up in March and we always slam the door on people.”

The Hurricanes, who trailed by as many as 14 points on Thursday, outscored North Carolina 15-10 in the third quarter to cut into the Tar Heels’ lead and set up their eventual fourth-quarter run.

Early on though, the game looked a bit like the teams’ previous meeting in January.

The Tar Heels, who built a double-digit lead in that matchup in Chapel Hill, came out hot again and outscored the Hurricanes 20-13 in the opening quarter. North Carolina (19-12) added to its lead early in the second with a 6-0 run that pushed the lead to 26-15.

Miami, meanwhile, struggled at times to put the ball in the basket and was 8-of-26 from the field midway through the second quarter.

But the Hurricanes closed the gap and pulled within single digits when they hit their last three field goals of the half, including Williams’ shot from near midcourt just before the halftime buzzer sounded.

That shot, which fueled plenty of celebrating on the Miami bench, cut North Carolina’s halftime lead to 37-30 and gave Miami a much-needed lift.

Williams went on to finish the day 3-of-7 from 3-point range.

“We’re made for tough moments like this,” Williams told the ACC Network after the win. “We go hard every day in practice. We always execute and thrive on the next toughest thing. That’s what it came down to.”

With Thursday’s win now behind them, the Hurricanes will prepare to face top-seeded and reigning ACC Champion, Virginia Tech.

The Hokies, ranked No. 11 in the AP Top 25, enter the matchup having lost their last two and could be without three-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, who was hurt in the Hokies’ regular-season finale against Virginia.

On Thursday, Meier sent good wishes Kitley’s way and expressed hope that the graduate center would be on the floor for Friday’s game.

“We walked past Virginia Tech on the way out, and we just have so much respect for the program, the coaching staffs, the players,” Meier said. “I saw Liz and just smiled at her and said, ‘Hope you’re doing all right.’ I hope she’s available because I hope that for them and for her. …

“Liz is just so … the time-per-touch. You never see a post player with such a short time-per-touch and that’s kind of a soccer term that’s become a basketball term. You can do whatever scheme you want to, but she thinks, and she moves the ball quicker than your scheme. That’s why I think she’s the class of the posts in America right now, because you can play through her, and she still drops 30 [points] on you.”

The Hurricanes and Hokies will tip off at 1:30 on Friday.