This college basketball season has been bizarre. But for UNC, calling it bizarre would be an understatement.
And Tuesday's last-second victory against the Miami Hurricanes epitomized that.
On a night when the Tar Heels couldn’t put the ball in the basket, senior guard Andrew Platek – the unlikeliest of heroes – made the biggest shot of his four-year career to give the Tar Heels a 67-65 victory.
It was a game that saw an oversized North Carolina squad get outscored in the paint by a much smaller Hurricanes team. It featured a team that entered the night shooting a putrid 28.7 percent from the 3-point line and went on to splash triples at a higher percentage than it had all season.
The game was by no means high-quality basketball, but head coach Roy Williams’ Tar Heels somehow found a way to get the win.
“I think I looked at the score tonight more than I ever had in all my life put together,” Williams said.
Now, the team has recovered from a brief two-game losing skid and brought its conference record back to an even 2-2. But it’s how those games were won that should have UNC fans surprised after experiencing last year’s fiasco.
Tense moments where the score is close near the end of the game give flashbacks to last year, when it felt as if just about anyone could pop a game-winning shot right in the face of a North Carolina defender.
The last two games have been the opposite. The Tar Heels have stepped up in the clutch moments and delivered when it mattered it most.
“It’s definitely a much better feeling than last year,” said junior forward Leaky Black, who had a career night on Tuesday. “(Miami) probably would’ve made that full-court shot last year.”
It proves that this team may have finally learned how to win. It hasn’t been pretty by any means, especially on the offensive end. But it helps solidify the glimmer of hope that surrounds the program — the hope that they can pull themselves out of these last two years of misery.
There is still a lot that needs to be fixed, if that’s even possible. But the potential talent on this North Carolina team shouldn't be denied.
The COVID-19 pandemic not only took away games, but has taken away time for these young players to jell with the veteran core. It's a disadvantage that's been seen in each of the three schools that had that top recruiting classes – Kentucky, UNC and Duke.
Tuesday night's performance showed a will to win, no matter what they style of play. Yes, this Miami game was still sloppy, but the Tar Heels relied on solid 3-point shooting, a skill that they are apparently very capable of doing on the odd occasion. As a team, the Tar Heels shot 45 percent from the 3-point line, well above their season average.
“If you put any of us in a gym with anybody in the county, I think we can outshoot them anywhere,” Platek said.
There is no guarantee that this team can get anywhere near the expectations that surrounded them in the preseason. But if ability to manufacture wins through a multitude of avenues sticks, the Tar Heels should have plenty of potential for growth.
All we can do is wait and see what happens. But if this season has taught people anything, it’s that it’s too unpredictable for anything to be certain for North Carolina.
“We just kept fighting,” Platek said. “That's honestly what it boils down to. We had heart and we had grit and although we didn't play well the entire game basically, we had enough heart to keep pushing.”
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