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UNC at Miami’s New Arena

January 5, 2003 Columns No Comments

Live From Miami – ‘Canes vs. Tar Heels

by Phil Kasiecki

On January 4, 2003, the Miami Hurricanes opened its new on-campus Convocation Center against North Carolina, after playing home games at Miami Arena since 1988. Located right near the South Dixie Highway, the Convocation Center is a beautiful $48 million facility completely funded through private donations. With a 7,000 seat capacity, the arena is certainly not the Big East’s largest arena, but it has a feel of a larger facility.

Miami head coach Perry Clark described the atmosphere as “electric” with the new facility, though later on, the game was what largely did it. “I think, at the beginning, it was the building that created the electricity, I think at the end it was the play of the two teams.” North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty also remarked on what it can do for them, having coached against them previously while at Notre Dame. “They deserve better than a thousand to two thousand fans”, Doherty said. “I always believed at your home court, the fans helped. They help distract the opponent, they help raise your level of play, and they help attract recruits.”

One hope that the Hurricane players and coaches have is that it will now make for a real home-court advantage. They may have already received what they wished for on Saturday night.

North Carolina sophomore Jawad Williams was fouled on a three-point attempt as time expired in overtime, with no foul call, and Miami escaped with a 64-61 victory. After the play, Doherty was none too pleased, as he ran towards officials in a fashion similar to that of Indiana head coach Mike Davis to protest the call. Although he was quite visibly upset after the play, Doherty was notably mellow in the postgame press conference. “I’m disappointed”, he said. “Jawad doesn’t shoot a three-pointer and the ball go ten feet”, he added before remarking on the officials being a good crew. “That’s a good officiating crew, and I’m disappointed, but that’s part of the game.”

The early minutes featured a lot of up and down play, with James Jones (game-high 21 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocked shots) leading Miami’s hot start and North Carolina freshman point guard Raymond Felton (12 points, 6 assists) keeping the Tar Heels close with several plays. Miami led for most of the first half, taking a 35-30 lead into the locker room, but the Tar Heels took over a few minutes into the second half. With just under eighteen minutes to play, they began a run of 18 unanswered points to take a 52-41 lead with 11:32 to play.

But the Tar Heels were ice cold after that, making just two three-point field goals the rest of the way as the Hurricanes would chip away at the lead. With 2.5 seconds left, Darius Rice (17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) was left open for a three-pointer from the corner. Overtime followed when North Carolina (8-4) was unable to get a shot off before time expired.

The overtime was ugly, as the only field goal came from Rice with over two minutes to play, and it would prove to be the winner before the dramatics of the final seconds.

For the game, North Carolina shot just 31.6% from the field. Miami (7-4) did not miss a free throw in regulation, while the Tar Heels missed two of three free throws in the final minute, including Felton missing the front end of a one-and-one.

Side Notes

More than a dozen NBA scouts attended the game, including a couple who noted how one-dimensional the highly-regarded Rice is and really liked the play of Jones. Rice can shoot the three-pointer well at 6’9″, but his ball skills have needed improvement since before his college days and he doesn’t have a lot of toughness (don’t let his 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in this game fool you).

Jones, meanwhile, is well-built and has the skills to play either forward position, often looking over the years like he could be better than he has been. Perhaps now he is starting to tap all of his potential, while Rice still has a lot that is untapped as yet. He was certainly the subject of much postgame talk, which led Doherty to quip in a fashion similar to that done by many with former Maryland star Joe Smith. “If he had a different name, he’d have a chance to be an All-American”, Doherty said. “James Jones is just kind of a plain name. He needs to change his name to something else, then people would remember his name, he’s a heck of a player.”

Alex Rodriguez was among those present at the game. The Texas Rangers star shortstop was honored during the game for a donation made to the university.

At halftime, Miami football head coach Larry Coker came onto the court to talk about the season after a highlight video was shown to the fans.


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