GREENSBORO -- North Carolina gave a double jolt of caffeine to the ACC tournament Friday – first by nearly losing to Miami, then by clawing back from a 19-point deficit to beat the Hurricanes on a buzzer beater by Tyler Zeller.
Zeller’s layup just before the buzzer – off a beautiful feed from Kendall Marshall – gave North Carolina a 61-59 ACC quarterfinal victory that seemed very unlikely until the final minute. The result: a crowd of more than 23,000, made up of 90 percent Tar Heel fans, got scared and then got overjoyed.
Five reasons why North Carolina finally pulled this one out after never leading the game for the first 39 minutes and 59 seconds:
• A three-point binge. Down 55-39 with 7:46 to go, the Tar Heels reeled off four three-pointers while Miami went scoreless in a span of two and a half minutes. That made it 55-51, and it obviously rattled Miami. Leslie McDonald
• Zeller awakens. UNC’s leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, Zeller was flummoxed by Miami’s matchup zone until the last four minutes. He then scored the Tar Heels last eight points on four straight field goals from inside.
In the first 36 minutes, Zeller had five points. In the last four, he had those eight, including the last left-handed layup. “I just sort of shot-putted it up there,” Zeller said, properly giving credit to Marshall's fine move to the basket that made Zeller's man come to help.
• Miami miscues. You can’t make a comeback from 19 points down with 10 minutes to go – UNC’s largest comeback since 2006 – without a lot of help. Miami gave it by not being able to score. One shot after another went sour for Miami. And with the score tied at 59-all, the Hurricanes fumbled a relatively simple pass out of bounds, setting up Zeller’s layup.
• Coaching strategy. Roy Williams went small with a three-guard lineup for much of the comeback, allowing the Tar Heels to trap more and make a few more three-pointers. Williams also sent in five walk-ons early in the game – basically to give him time to yell at the starters – but that didn’t do much immediately as the Tar Heels still trailed by nine at halftime. Those five walk-ons do have a cool nickname, though -- "Blue Steel."
• The crowd. It was full, it was very loud and there’s no doubt it helped.