NEW YORK (AP) — Isaiah Hicks had 19 points and No. 6 North Carolina certainly looked like a national championship contender in its postseason debut, beating Miami 78-53 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
The top-seeded Tar Heels (27-6) got 12 points from ACC player of the year Justin Jackson and held the smaller Hurricanes to 36 percent shooting, setting up a fantastic semifinal Friday night against archrival Duke, which is ranked 14th, or No. 8 Louisville.
Either way, a juicy matchup.
With the stands at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center sprinkled in Carolina blue, the defending champion Tar Heels didn’t disappoint their fans who made the trip north. Eyeing a pair of coveted prizes as March rolls on, North Carolina showed off some skilled passing and finished with 21 assists on 28 field goals.
Point guard Joel Berry II added 11 points and five assists, while Kennedy Meeks contributed 10 points and seven rebounds. Hicks sank all nine of his free throws for the big and experienced Tar Heels, hoping a long run in Brooklyn could land them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Freshman guard Bruce Brown had 21 points and seven rebounds for the ninth-seeded Hurricanes (21-11).
To advance, the Tar Heels dispatched a team that’s been a thorn in their side recently. They lost 77-62 at Miami on Jan. 28, mustering only 22 points on 21 percent shooting in the first half, and had dropped five of their seven games against the Hurricanes over the past six seasons.
This time, North Carolina opened a 12-point lead in the first half, weathered a quick Miami spurt and pulled away to build a 66-47 advantage with 6:24 remaining. The lead only grew in the final care-free minutes, and the Hurricanes were held to 24 points in the second half.
Just about everything went right for the well-rested Tar Heels, who had four days between games after earning a double-round bye into the quarterfinals. When junior swingman Theo Pinson tried to throw an alley-oop from the right side with 8:40 to play, the ball actually wound up going in — leaving Pinson with a look of disbelief.
Miami: With victories over North Carolina, Duke and Virginia this season, the scrappy Hurricanes appeared to be on solid footing for the NCAAs even before winning their ACC Tournament opener against Syracuse in the face of an Orange-clad crowd. The loss to North Carolina shouldn’t hurt much. … Miami fell to 0-4 against the top seed at the ACC Tournament.
North Carolina: After winning the regular-season crown by two games, the Tar Heels are trying to become the first team to repeat as ACC Tournament champion since Duke (2009-11). If they can do that, they would tie the Blue Devils for the most titles with 19.
Miami: Expecting a second straight at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina: Beat Louisville 74-63 at home on Feb. 22. Split two regular-season matchups against No. 14 Duke, with each team winning at home. North Carolina beat the Blue Devils 90-83 last Saturday.