Before every senior night game, North Carolina coach Roy Williams reminds each underclassman to "take care of the old guys" with a victory.
"But today," Williams said Tuesday night after his team beat Miami 69-62, "the old guys took care of themselves."
Playing as if they wanted to extend their college careers - and now, they just might - seniors Marcus Ginyard (first career double-double) and Deon Thompson (14 points, despite a sore back) led the Tar Heels to the 2,000th win in program history. They also kept Williams undefeated (22-0) on senior night, and gave North Carolina its first two-game winning streak since December.
The win also puts North Carolina (16-14, 5-10 ACC) two games above .500, and in better position for a National Invitation Tournament bid - although the players haven't given up on making an ACC tournament run for an automatic NCAA berth.
"It's huge for this team to have these two games in a row, something we've never had," said Ginyard, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds. "We know that we have a huge challenge ahead of us, but I think this team is starting to get to the point where we're focusing on the day-to-day, and knowing we have a chance to do something special."
One of the reasons the seniors were able to make their final game at the Smith Center special was their grit and poise down the stretch.
North Carolina - which had a double-digit lead in the first half of an ACC game for the first time this season - led by as many as 18 points early in the second half, before Miami cut it to 59-58 with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Adrian Thomas.
That's when Thompson - who had left the game temporarily with an aching back - buried a turnaround jumper with 3:03 to go to give his team a three-point cushion.
"It was pretty bad," Thompson said of the pain. "I couldn't move, I couldn't run. I came back in and shot an air ball ... but the last thing I wanted to think about was that it's my senior night, and I went out hurt. I just wanted to go back out there, give whatever I had - leave it out there."
After point guard Larry Drew II made a free throw with 1:32 left to give North Carolina a 62-58 lead, Ginyard - slowed by injuries the entire season - grabbed his 10th rebound of the game. Then he grabbed two more - and made three of four free throws - in the final minute to help his team pull away, for good.
"I just don't think it could've happened better for me tonight," Ginyard said. "I've flirted with a double-double in the past, and (video coordinator) Eric Hoots is always joking, telling me I'm scared of a double-double. I told him tonight, I wasn't scared of it, I looked up there and I saw nine points, nine rebounds, and knew I had time to do it."
Miami guard Durand Scott led all scorers with 29 points. Junior Will Graves had 16 for the Tar Heels, and forward John Henson pulled down 12 rebounds.
"This wasn't just about basketball; I remember going into Thompson's home," Williams said. "It wasn't just about our basketball team, it was about what Deon has done for four year and Marcus for five years."