North Carolina's celebration at the end of its 61-59 win against Miami in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament was one part elation and two parts relief.
Tyler Zeller's uncontested layup as the buzzer sounded helped the Tar Heels avoid being bounced from the conference tournament in their opening game and spared fans everywhere from having to watch Miami, Boston College or Clemson play in the finals.
But it never should have gotten to the panic point that it did when the Heels found themselves down 19 with 9:56 remaining. Only then did the kick in the rear end that coach Roy Williams had been practicing all game actually create some feeling. The Tar Heels were completely unaffected by nine turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game. The starters seemed unfazed by being replaced by five bench players for about 90 unproductive seconds in the first half. They were pretty ho-hum about the nine-point halftime deficit.
But when Miami's Reggie Johnson made an uncontested layup, which ended a stretch where Miami seemingly couldn't miss, North Carolina decided it was finally time to play some basketball.
And it was perhaps the finest 10 minutes of basketball the Tar Heels have played all season.
They went on a 27-6 run that included 11-of-17 shooting, five 3-pointers and eight consecutive points by Zeller to cap the game.
Zeller's winning shot gave the Heels their only lead of the afternoon.
Williams spent most of the game scowling. His only emotion, a solitary clap after Zeller's shot fell. It's probably fair to assume that while he spent some postgame time praising his team's fortitude, he also spent some time cursing the reasons that put them there in the first place, including 20 turnovers (12 Miami steals).
At the very least, Friday's game should serve as a jumpstart and even a warning for North Carolina through the rest of the weekend and perhaps maybe even into the NCAA tournament.
- Tyler Zeller
- North Carolina