UNC wins, wants more shots to fall

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- When seventh-ranked North Carolina’s 3-point shots finally start going through consistently, coach Roy Williams said, “We’re really going to be a good basketball team.”

In the second half Wednesday night, after all, it helped them be a whole lot better.

Zero-for-six from 3-point land in the first half -- and 2-for-22 counting the four halves before that -- the Tar Heels swished five second-half 3-pointers to help pull away from Miami and survive 73-64.

It marked the third time in five games that UNC has shot worse than 40 percent and won.

And while that’s a tribute to the Tar Heels’ defense (which held the Hurricanes to 35.5 percent shooting in the second half), it’s also a testament to how much better UNC can (and will need to) be.

“Kids have got to step up and make shots,’’ Williams said. “I got mad and screamed at P.J. [Hairston] one time, ‘Make a dad-gum shot.’ It’s a pretty easy game, and if you’re a great shooter, you ought to be able to shoot the ball in the game, in practice, out in the backyard when the wind’s blowing.

“So I still think we’re going to make them, and we’re going to show it, but we’ve got to do it.”

The Tar Heels trailed 35-30 at halftime, and they were down 44-36 with about 15 minutes left when they made their first 3-pointer -- courtesy of sophomore Harrison Barnes.

“It was a nice relief,’’ said Barnes, who led UNC with 23 points.

And one that jump-started a rally.

Barnes followed that 3-pointer with a 3-point play, and then Hairston -- back after missing Saturday’s win over Virginia because of a sore foot -- connected on two free throws to knot the score at 44.

Barnes hit another 3, with 13:12 left, to give UNC its first lead of the second half (47-46).

His third 3 made it 58-53.

And then Reggie Bullock (10 points, all in the second half) made two from beyond the arc in the final 6:27 to give the Tar Heels a much-needed cushion down the stretch.

“It felt good, knowing that I’m still shooting with confidence, and that my teammates still have confidence in me,’’ said Bullock, who had made only 3 of his previous 15 3-point attempts entering the game.

No Tar Heel has seemed to be able to put his finger on why there have been so many shooting woes of late. Williams said during his Monday night radio show that the players have been struggling to connect from long distance in practice recently, too.

(Not that it kept them from trying.)

“I think we’ve got a unique collection of guys, that even if the shots aren’t falling, we’re still going to put them up,’’ Barnes said. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad; the jury’s still out on that one. But we have confidence in our shooters, and we need to continue to make shots.”

Indeed, even the guys who aren’t shooting from long distance -- such as 7-footer Tyler Zeller -- feel the benefit when 3s start falling. It takes some of the pressure off him defensively (because foes can’t ignore the shooters, and concentrate all their efforts in the lane). And offensively, as well.

“[It’s a] huge relief, especially when you’re battling Reggie [Johnson, Miami’s center] the whole game,’’ said Zeller, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds. "He’s a huge guy, tough to go against. So when you start hitting 3s, I don’t’ have to worry about offense as much, and I can let [my teammates] take over the game, and try to hit some second shots in.”

In the end, NC made 5 of 18 3-point attempts for the game (5-of-12 in the second half). John Henson added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels.

Durand Scott led Miami with 15 points.

Williams was pleased with the hard-fought victory, but still wants to see more 3s fall through.

“To have a chance to be one of those teams still standing at the end of the year, you’re not going to win every game pretty -- shooting 55 percent and those kinds of things,’’ Williams said. “It’s been a while since we shot like that.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.