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January 17, 2009CHAPEL HILL - The last time Wayne Ellington had a night like this, he was a high-school junior competing in an all-star game.
The result of this game meant quite a bit more, as Ellington's 23 points - all scored in the second half - propelled fifth-ranked North Carolina to an 82-65 win against Miami that got the Tar Heels back to .500 in ACC play.
"It felt great," Ellington said. "I hadn't been shooting it the way I wanted to all season long. It was good to have a game to give me confidence."
Ellington set a career high with seven 3-pointers, and he hit them consecutively before missing three late 3-point attempts in an effort to match the UNC school record.
"He was just shooting unconsciously," said Danny Green, who joked that Ellington "watched from the sideline and took some notes" during Green's hot streak this season.
While Ellington's smooth shooting was what eventually put the game away for the Tar Heels (16-2, 2-2 in the ACC), the most crucial stretch in the game happened before he scored a single point.
Carolina trailed by as many as nine in the first half before getting a defensive spark from point guard Ty Lawson, who put better pressure on the ball in the middle of the court to disrupt the Hurricanes' offense before it could even get going.
The Tar Heels chipped away at the Miami lead over the course of about six minutes before finally retaking the lead on an Ed Davis lay-up with 40 seconds to go in the half and heading to the break with a 36-32 lead.
"The last four or five minutes of the first half were crucial for us," UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Tyler Hansbrough scored 20 of his team-high 24 points in the first half before Ellington stole the show in the second.
Early in the second half, he hit 3-pointers on three straight Carolina possessions and then four minutes later buried back-to-back threes to put the Tar Heels up 63-46 with 10:47 to go.
Two possessions later, he added another that pushed UNC's lead to 20.
"Once you start knocking them down, it feels like they're all going to go in," Ellington said. "Hopefully I'll be back in the groove."
In all, the junior guard 7-for-11 from 3-point range, the most threes made by a Carolina player since Rashad McCants tied a school record with eight against Clemson in 2004.
Ellington was 8-for-14 from the field, the first time in ACC play this season that he has shot better than 50 percent.
He also came within a single trifecta of matching his combined total for the previous six games.
"He was hitting everything," Hansbrough said. "That's as confident as I've seen him play in a while."
In addition to being a huge mental boost for Ellington, the performance also gave the team a shot of confidence since Ellington is a crucial weapon for the Tar Heels to have when Hansbrough has trouble scoring inside.
"It's definitely been missed because it makes us a lot harder to guard," Green said. "It opens up a lot of things in the middle for the bigs and for the other guards. I was happy for him."
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