CORAL GABLES — North Carolina’s Marcus Paige had Shane Larkin well covered when the Miami Hurricanes’ point guard launched a shot from the top of the key. “I yelled, ‘Good defense, Marcus,’” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “And it went right in.”
Lately there’s no stopping the eighth-ranked Hurricanes, who made a school record-tying 15 3-pointers and extended their winning streak to 11 games by beating North Carolina 87-61 on Saturday.
The Tar Heels started poorly and were dominated inside but Williams said Miami is unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference for a reason.
“Everybody from North Carolina always thinks it’s just about North Carolina,” he said. “It’s not. Miami is pretty ‘dadgum’ good.”
North Carolina (16-7, 6-4 ACC), which began the season 18-2 against the Hurricanes, lost to them for the second time in four weeks.
Miami (19-3, 10-0) set a school record for ACC victories in a season with eight games still to go. The Hurricanes are the last unbeaten team in league play among the major conferences.
“It’s crazy. I see how great of a team we can be,” Miami guard Durand Scott said. “We’re just rolling.”
Word is spreading and the attendance-challenged Hurricanes drew a sellout crowd for the third time in the past four home games. Among those on hand were LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, seated in the front row.
Coach Jim Larranaga said he received a phone call early in the week requesting tickets for the Heat stars.
“I told them, ‘Sorry, it’s sold out.’ But then we said, ‘We think we can fit you in.’ For our recruiting purposes, it gives us a lot of credibility when we tell them we’re a hot ticket in town and our program is headed in the right direction,” Larranaga said.
Another climb in the polls for the Hurricanes is likely this week, which would mean their best ranking ever. They have never been higher than No. 8 and achieved that spot last week for the first time in 53 years, then moved to No. 3 this week in the Associated Press poll. The 17 first-place votes were the first received in 53 seasons. The Hurricanes got 1,499 total votes to fall just behind No. 1 Indiana (1,559) and second-ranked Duke (1,515).
Players have begun fielding questions about the prospect of being ranked No. 1.
“That would be lovely,” Scott said, “but that’s not going to change our focus or determination.”
Their aim was true Saturday. The Hurricanes made 13 of their first 19 3-point tries and finished 15 for 26 from beyond the arc.
“All of a sudden they started making every shot,” Williams said. “A lot of teams couldn’t stand out there with no defense on the court and make 15 out of 26.”
Larkin, a sophomore, had 18 points and a career-high nine assists, including one on the game’s most spectacular play.
He lofted a pass off the glass on a fast break to set up a throwdown dunk by Kenny Kadji for a 70-46 lead.
“Kenny said, ‘Backboard, backboard,’” Larkin said. “I didn’t see anybody behind him, so I tossed it off the backboard really soft and he killed it.”
Miami’s smothering defense did the rest, flustering a team averaging an ACC-best 79.1 points per game. Julian Gamble led the way with four blocks and the Tar Heels were so discombobulated that, on one inbounds pass, two of their players collided away from the ball and went sprawling.
Kadji and Scott each had 17 points and six rebounds for the Hurricanes, who shot 54 percent, the best against the Tar Heels this season.
“They were hitting on a lot of cylinders and all those cliches,” Williams said. “We didn’t have many answers.”
North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo totaled only six points — nine below his average.
“We need him to play better,” Williams said. “We need all of our guys to play better.”
Reggie Bullock led the Tar Heels with 14 points. Playing in new throwback uniforms, they looked out of sorts from the start.
The Hurricanes made layups on three consecutive possessions to take a 9-0 lead after only 2 minutes.
The Hurricanes’ defense were so good they committed turnovers on five consecutive possessions and still led 13-2.
They hit six 3-pointers over the final 5:04 of the first half to go ahead 44-27.
Five minutes into the second half, the margin was 59-33. It was such a clean performance by the Hurricanes that they played 24 minutes before either team shot a free throw.