No. 3 North Carolina 73, Miami 56

BY foxsports • January 11, 2012

North Carolina's often-overlooked backcourt got the best of Miami's talented guards, not to mention proved it can help the third-ranked Tar Heels overcome an off performance from their vaunted front line.

Dexter Strickland scored 14 points while Kendall Marshall added 12 - both season highs - to help the Tar Heels beat Miami 73-56 on Tuesday night, North Carolina's latest easy win in a monthlong homestand filled with them.

Tyler Zeller scored 16 points to lead the Tar Heels (15-2, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who closed that nine-game home stand with a perfect record to rebuild some momentum after early losses to UNLV and Kentucky. The Tar Heels led almost the entire night against the Hurricanes (9-6, 0-2) and blew the game open with a 17-0 run spanning halftime, which staked UNC to a 23-point lead that never got below 15 the rest of the night.

Miami entered the game with the more heralded backcourt of preseason all-ACC pick Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott, but Strickland and Marshall helped slow the duo while providing some extra scoring punch.

''Last game I talked about our big guys had great shooting percentages and this time it was Dexter and Kendall,'' coach Roy Williams said. ''I like that part of it, that different people can hurt you on a different night.''

Strickland looked active all night, finishing 7-for-9 from the field while leading the defensive effort on Grant and Scott. But Marshall's performance might have stood out more considering the pass-first point guard came in averaging fewer than five shots a game and about five points.

On Tuesday, Marshall - who entered the week tied for the national lead with 10.1 assists per game - finished 5-for-7 from the field and had eight assists.

''It seemed a lot more open,'' Marshall said. ''You could see the bigs were really focused on taking away my pass. It's not a matter of me trying to be more aggressive but just me trying to make the right play to help our team.''

Those performances were valuable considering the struggles of frontcourt stars Harrison Barnes and John Henson. Barnes had a season-low six points on 2-for-12 shooting while Henson started 2-for-10 before making his last three to finish with 11 points.

''I think if me and Kendall can be more aggressive,'' Strickland said, ''it opens the floor for John and (Zeller) and Harrison.''

Compare that to Grant and Scott. Grant came in averaging about 14 points but finished with five on 2-for-8 shooting. Scott was averaging about 13 and finished with 12, though he went 4-for-12. They combined miss all seven 3-point tries, part of a miserable outside shooting day (3-for-16) for the Hurricanes.

The Tar Heels had all kinds of trouble with Miami last year. They needed a last-second 3-pointer from Barnes to win at Miami then had to rally from 19 down in the second half to win in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, which ended with Marshall penetrating to find Zeller for a buzzer-beating layup.

This time, things got away from Miami in the final 3 minutes of the first half. Leading by six, Marshall twice drove in for baskets, including one in which he muscled up a shot over Shane Larkin to start a 9-0 run to end the first half that gave the Tar Heels a 40-25 halftime lead.

North Carolina picked right up where it left off after the break, scoring eight straight points to take its biggest lead at 48-25 on Zeller's tip-in with 17:05 to play.

''We didn't pay attention to the game plan,'' Grant said. ''We know they run in transition. They got a lot of baskets in transition. We just didn't execute the game plan offensively or defensively.''

That was the biggest deficit of the year for the Hurricanes, who got no closer than 15 points. The lopsided loss followed a one-point loss at Virginia over the weekend in coach Jim Larranaga's first ACC game on the Miami sideline.

''When you're down by so much, teams tend to separate,'' Scott said. ''We tried to stay together as much as possible. But Carolina is a great team and when you get down by so far, even if you try to get back in it and play together, it's going to be a difficult game to come back in.''

At halftime, the school honored Woody Durham, who spent four decades as the radio ''Voice of the Tar Heels'' before retiring after last season. Gov. Beverly Perdue attended the ceremony and presented Durham with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, an award for lifelong service to the state of North Carolina.