CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s Hall of Fame coach and his players had spent the month of January grinding through a frustrating and confidence-jarring set of losses, brought on amid a series of injuries as well as shaky play.
Finally on Saturday, the Tar Heels could celebrate the end of uncharacteristic struggles for the tradition-rich program -- for a game, anyway -- and a coaching milestone for Roy Williams that took much longer than expected to achieve.
Brandon Robinson scored a career-high 29 points to help North Carolina beat Miami 94-71, ending the program’s first five-game losing streak since 2003. It also allowed Williams to pass late mentor Dean Smith for fourth on the Division I men’s career coaching wins list, though it came nearly a month after Williams tied Smith in a win against Yale.
“I’d have been just as happy if it happened four or five games ago,” Williams said, adding: “I desperately wanted No. 9 for this team.”
The Tar Heels (9-10, 2-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) had lost six straight league games for the first time in program history. Williams had been emotional and despondent after recent losses in trying to find an answer.
They released weeks of pent-up frustration against a Miami team missing two of its top scorers in Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty, using a 15-2 run to build a big early lead and turn this one into a rare romp for a struggling group.
Robinson’s return was particularly welcome. The 6-foot-5 senior didn’t play in Wednesday’s double-overtime loss at Virginia Tech due to lingering effects from a Jan. 11 car accident in which the other driver was charged with driving while impaired, though Robinson had played Jan. 18 against Pittsburgh.
“The mood in the locker room was so much better,” Robinson said. “I feel so much better just because we won, I can sleep good tonight, so I’m happy about that.”
Freshman Isaiah Wong scored a season-high 19 points for the Hurricanes (10-9, 2-7), who announced shortly before tipoff that Lykes and McGusty wouldn’t play due to injuries. Running with just six players much of the way, Miami shot 41% and made 6 of 24 3-pointers.
“I thought Carolina played very well, shot the ball very well,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We couldn’t stop them and they defensively really caused problems for us.”