CORAL GABLES, Fla.--- North Carolina took Miami's best shot Wednesday night in the BankUnited Center, but reminiscent of other road ACC victories this winter, the Tar Heels took control defensively in the second half on the way to a 73-64 triumph, which keeps UNC in a tie for first place atop the league standings with a 9-2 mark.
"It was one of those wins you have to get to have a fantastic year. It was a tough win. It was an ugly win in some ways," said UNC head coach Roy Williams afterwards.
In a trend that's been prevalent in recent games, the Tar Heels prevailed despite shooting under 40 percent from the field.
UNC also won road games at Maryland and Wake Forest despite making less than two-fifths of its total shot attempts.
"I told our guys when we start making some shots, we're going to be a really good basketball team. This is the third road game in a row that we shot less than 40 percent and still won," said Coach Williams.
UNC picked up an early 8-4 lead and had a chance to add to it after Miami big man Reggie Johnson picked up two early fouls in the first three and a half minutes, but the Tar Heels turned the ball over a couple times and lapsed defensively, which helped Miami go on a 12-4 run after Johnson's departure to build a 16-12 advantage.
"Kendall (Marshall) got off to a bad start. He had two turnovers in the first four minutes of the game, and then he didn't have another the rest of the way," said Williams.
Miami's Kenny Kadji scored seven of Miami's first 11 points, and then veterans Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant got into the act as the 'Canes made five three-pointers over the first 20 minutes.
Miami led by as much as nine points with about five minutes remaining in the first half, but the Tar Heels rallied late in the period to cut the Miami's halftime advantage to 35-30.
UNC appeared to have cause for concern, but in what has become a recurring theme during the ACC regular season in road games such as Virginia Tech and Maryland, the Tar Heels stepped up its defensive intensity and stifled Miami in the second half, allowing the 'Canes to make just three of nine three-pointers and shoot just 35.5 percent (11 of 31) in the second half.
"In the first half, they were getting shots on the outside, getting shots on the inside, getting offensive rebounds," said Harrison Barnes. "Frankly we just let them do whatever they wanted. In the second half we definitely tried to come out and pressure, deny, push their offense closer to halfcourt, and take them out of some of the things they were getting in the first half."
Only four UNC players scored in the first half---all forwards---but finally in the second half the Tar Heels started making some shots from the perimeter.
Reggie Bullock nailed a shot in the first two minutes of the second half to cut Miami's lead to 38-36, but then Miami went on a quick 6-0 run to jump back ahead by eight points.
But then Barnes took the game over.
It started with a three-pointer, and then Barnes drew a three-point play for six straight points to pull UNC within 44-42 at the 14:10 mark.
After P.J. Hairston made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 44 apiece, it was Barnes again who nailed a clutch three-pointer that gave UNC a 47-46 advantage.
"We made a couple big ones in the second half. Harrison got going quite a bit. Reggie (Bullock) made a huge three across from our bench on a set play," said Williams.
At this point in the game UNC got some significant contributions from its bench, as James Michael McAdoo, Justin Watts, and Hairston all made key plays.
Hairston had an athletic 'tip rebound' basket to re-give UNC the lead at 49-48, and then Watts scored twice in a row to give the Tar Heels a 53-50 advantage.
For Hairston, who was playing for the first time since last week's heartbreaking loss to Duke, his stat line wasn't spectacular---four points and four rebounds in eight minutes----but he proved to be huge in the second half for the Tar Heels, as did Watts and McAdoo.
"I thought J Watts and James Michael and P.J. all three gave us some things off the bench. J Watts had I think two baskets off offensive rebounds, P.J. had an offensive rebound for a basket, and I think that James Michael did some good things. We're going to need that kind of activity coming off our bench," said Coach Williams.
Miami briefly tied the game 53-53 on a three-pointer from DeQuan Jones, but from there UNC sealed the deal, ending the game on a decisive 20-11 run.
Barnes, showing more confidence with each passing shot, connected on his third three-pointer around the 7:45 mark, and then a three-ball by Bullock upped UNC's lead to eight points (63-55) at the 6:15 mark.
"I told the guys to stop being so negative and worrying about it (missing shots). You've got to step up and make plays," said Coach Williams. "Harrison was big, to say the least. We feel very lucky to get out (with the win)."
Miami kept the game close into the final two minutes before a critical possession went Carolina's way.
Barnes missed an off-balance three-pointer, but John Henson got crucial offensive rebound, leading to a Bullock three-pointer that proved to be a dagger for Miami, giving UNC a 67-58 lead with just 1:35 on the clock.
Barnes finished with a game-high 23 points---his tenth 20-point game of the season so far---while Henson added 14 points and Bullock 10.
For Coach Williams, it was his 100th victory in Atlantic Coast Conference play in 139 games over the last nine seasons, making him the second-fastest coach in history to reach that mark.
Only Duke's Vic Bubas, who won 100 games in his first 128 contests, got to the century mark quicker than Williams has.
The Tar Heels return to action Saturday afternoon in the Smith Center against Clemson, who has famously never beaten North Carolina in Chapel Hill.