No answers to be found on the court or solutions uncovered afterward for North Carolina.
Miami trampled the Tar Heels 85-57 in Atlantic Coast Conference basketball Tuesday night at the Watsco Center, the blowout marking North Carolina’s worst loss in league play in 10 years, and leaving first-year coach Hubert Davis to sort through the devastation of another meltdown away from Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels arrived with the chance to gain at least a share of first place in the conference — or sole possession of the top spot pending the Duke-Florida State outcome hours later — but quickly became no match for the league-leading Hurricanes, freefalling behind during a disastrous first half and face-planting into the depths of a 27-point hole by halftime. Miami rolled to its largest margin of victory ever against North Carolina.
“We were prepared,” Davis said, when asked if any ominous signs emerged in the Tar Heels’ preparation for the game. “Everything that Miami did, it was practiced, it was drilled, it was talked about, it was scouted. We even talked about being in this position to take over first place in the ACC. That every game has major significance, but this one adds a little bit more.
“We were prepared. We just didn’t play, and that’s the frustrating part. That we were prepared, and at this moment I’m just not sure why we didn’t play.”
Isaiah Wong poured in 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Sam Waardenburg delivered a career-high 21 points, and Kameron McGusty supplied 20 points and 10 rebounds to spark the avalanche unleashed by the host Hurricanes (14-4 overall, 6-1 ACC). Wong and Waardenburg bombed away, connecting on a combined 10-for-14 from 3-point range.
Armando Bacot had 15 points and 12 rebounds for visiting North Carolina (12-5, 4-2), his eighth straight double-double, before a scary crash to the court knocked him out of the game with five minutes remaining and Miami on cruise control, leading 77-51. Davis said Bacot hurt an elbow and his hip in the hard landing on his back side after challenging Miami’s driving Charlie Moore, but perhaps could’ve returned had things not been so lopsided.
Miami hit the Tar Heels with runs of 14-0 and 10-0 during the first half, and scored nine straight points to build its commanding 47-22 lead by halftime, North Carolina’s largest halftime deficit in 12 years. Wong’s four-point play — he drilled a 3-pointer, got fouled by North Carolina’s Kerwin Walton and sank the free throw — put the Hurricanes ahead 62-30 six minutes into the second half.
“We just have to change our whole mindset,” Tar Heels guard RJ Davis said. “There’s no walk-in-the-park kind of games. There’s no easy game for us. That’s our main thing moving forward, something’s got to change.”
‘Guys, I see it’: UNC’s beatdown of Georgia Tech brings growth into focus for Hubert Davis
North Carolina is 9-0 in home games this season. Combining neutral-site matchups and road assignments, the Tar Heels dropped to 3-5 away from the Smith Center. And the pounding Miami administered on this night in Coral Gables, Fla., registered on the same disturbing scale as jarring non-conference losses to Tennessee (by 89-72 in November) and Kentucky (by 98-69 last month).
RJ Davis said “it kind of felt like” the Tennessee and Kentucky beatings.
What must happen for North Carolina to fix these recurring nightmares?
“That’s a great question,” Hubert Davis said, shaking his head. “At this moment, I don’t know. At times throughout the year, I feel like there has been a change in mentality, in effort and in toughness. And then we have a game like this.
“Just very disappointed. Very disappointed in our fight, competitiveness, our effort. Just very disappointed.”
Here are more takeaways from Tuesday night:
UNC supporting cast shrinks
Coming off back-to-back 29-point performances in a pair of decisive victories, Bacot had more offensive fouls (two) than made baskets (one) on Tuesday night in the first half against Miami.
While it wasn’t anything resembling a preferred start for North Carolina’s chief weapon, the Tar Heels’ other main contributors mostly turned up missing. Remove Bacot’s 6-for-9 effort from the field, and North Carolina’s shooting dipped from a season-low 33.8 percent to an even worse 28.6 percent (16-for-56).
North Carolina, the ACC’s top-ranked team in 3-point shooting percentage, went just 6-for-30 from beyond the arc. Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Brady Manek, the Tar Heels’ most productive scorers behind Bacot on the season, combined on 7-for-30 shooting from the field.
“I think we need, as a collective group, to bring our own energy and rely on each other,” RJ Davis said.
Surprise, it’s Sam Waardenburg
Miami features the ACC’s best scoring duo in Wong and McGusty, the slashing guards whose big outputs against North Carolina didn’t register as unexpected. The 6-foot-10 Waardenburg, a sixth-year senior forward, did prove to be a surprise, though.
He zoomed past his season average of 7.1 points per game during the game’s opening 8½ minutes, and nearly eclipsed his previous career high of 18 points in the first half.
Waardenburg had 12 successful 3s in 15 games on the season entering Tuesday night. He erupted and went 4-for-4 from 3-point range in the first half against the Tar Heels, then nailed his fifth 3 without a miss 55 seconds into the second half. He finished 7-for-9 from the field, his other buckets two driving dunks after pump-faking Manek and Bacot off their feet near the 3-point line.
“One of the things that we talked about is Miami does a really good job shot-faking,” Hubert Davis said. “We went for a number of shot fakes and allowed them to penetrate and get to the basket.”
‘Flat-out embarrassing’: Armando Bacot frustrated, apologetic as UNC falls at Notre Dame
Plenty of NCAA tourney work ahead
While unranked in the Top 25 polls, North Carolina had climbed to No. 24 in the Pomeroy Ratings, an extensive college basketball database, and reached the No. 7 seed line in some projections for the NCAA Tournament field.
The blowout loss at Miami on Tuesday night clearly isn’t helpful for the Tar Heels’ NCAA credentials, and turns Saturday night’s visit to Wake Forest all the more important. North Carolina’s home-and-away matchups against Virginia Tech (Jan. 24, Feb. 19) and Duke (Feb. 5, March 5), and home game against Florida State on Feb. 12, figure to be résumé weighty, too.
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Times-News: UNC basketball: Miami leaves Tar Heels with worst ACC loss in 10 years