CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga and his players visited campus dorms this week inviting students to Wednesday night's game against North Carolina, and a near-capacity crowd showed up.
For much of the game, Miami had a shot at the kind of upset that might keep fans coming back.
But the Hurricanes squandered an eight-point lead in the second half, went nearly five minutes without a point down the stretch and lost to the No. 8 Tar Heels 73-64.
"It was a missed chance for us to make the next step," Hurricanes center Reggie Johnson said. "The crowd was good. I like that a lot. But we came up short in the end."
Miami (15-9, 6-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost to the Tar Heels for the 18th time in their 20 meetings, including two defeats this year.
"We played a very solid first half," Larranaga said. "But we never played great, and what we're looking for is for this team to become a great team."
Fan chants of "Aus-tin Ri-vers" down the stretch failed to rattle the Tar Heels. Rivers hit a 3-point buzzer-beater last week to cap a furious rally and help Duke beat North Carolina.
The crowd of 7,071 was Miami's largest at home this season. Larranaga and his players visited campus dorms Monday, passed out chicken wings and T-shirts and encouraged students to attend the game.
"We want our students to feel like school spirit is an important part of your college life," Larranaga said.
The Tar Heels, who came in averaging 83.5 points, shot only 38 percent and went 5 for 18 from 3-point range. But they forced turnovers on four consecutive possessions in the second half to get back in the game.
"Defensively we can be a very good team," said North Carolina center Tyler Zeller, who was held to nine points but made three steals. "We can win games in the 50s and 60s. And when we start making shots, hopefully we can win by a bigger margin."
North Carolina (22-4, 9-2) took a half-game lead over Duke and Florida State atop the ACC standings.
"It was one of those wins you have to have to have a fantastic year," coach Roy Williams said. "It was a tough win, it was an ugly win in some ways. To be able to grit it out defensively — we did some better things there. That's a huge benefit to win games when you play ugly."
Durand Scott scored 15 points for Miami, and Kenny Kadji added 13 points and seven rebounds. But Malcolm Grant's shooting slump continued, and he finished 1 for 6 and scored three points, nine below his average.
Harrison Barnes led North Carolina with 23 points, including a trio of 3-pointers in the final 16 minutes. John Henson had 14 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for the Tar Heels, who beat Miami for the 10th time in a row.
Zeller was held seven points below his average and shot 4 for 13. Kendall Marshall went 0 for 6, and while the Tar Heels came up with some key offensive rebounds, they edged Miami by only six on the boards.
But they outscored the Hurricanes 14-6 off turnovers.
"When the shots aren't falling, you've got to bring something else to the table," guard Reggie Bullock said. "Hopefully the shots start falling."
In three of their past four wins, the Tar Heels have shot under 40 percent.
The Tar Heels sank only five 3-pointers, all in the final 16 minutes. They fell behind 44-36, then used defense to rally.
Turnovers by Miami helped North Carolina score eight consecutive points and make it 44-all. Barnes' 3-pointer moments later gave the Tar Heels their first lead since early in the opening half.
Another 3-pointer by Barnes put North Carolina ahead by five for the first time, 58-53.
Kadji's 3-pointer for the Hurricanes cut the margin to 63-58 with 6:10 left, but they then went cold. Bullock's 3-pointer put the Tar Heels up 67-58, and they sank four of six free throws in the final minute to sew up the win.