Michael Jordan used to say you have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.
Unlike the North Carolina basketball teams Jordan starred on during the early 1980s and most of those before and after his arrival on campus, the expectations for this 100th Tar Heel team gradually have slipped to almost nothing.
That's what a stunningly bad season marked by errant shooting, sloppy ballhand ling and lax defense can do to a team, even Carolina.
But Tuesday night against a Miami outfit with similar problems, the Tar Heels looked a little more like a group of players who expected to win, which they did, 69-62. Although only 5-11 since Jan. 1, the Tar Heels finally cracked the 2,000 all-time win mark for the school.
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It wasn't an artistic success. An 18-point second-half lead was sliced to one with 3:32 left and to two at the 38-second mark, turning the Smith Center into Fort Frantic and moving quickly in the direction of becoming Point Panic.
The Heels escaped after committing 17 turnovers to Miami's eight and barely shooting 40 percent.
But thanks to accurate late-game free-throwing shooting by Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves, the Heels won for the second straight time, pushing their ACC record to 5-10 (16-14 overall) and possibly avoiding the indignity of going from a national championship to last in its league, and a feeble league this season at that.
If the No. 12 seed in next week's league tournament in Greensboro has to be sorted out among Carolina, Miami (4-11, 18-11) and N.C. State (4-10, 16-13 entering tonight's game at Virginia Tech), the Heels get the tie-breaker edge by virtue of two wins over the Wolfpack and a 1-0 record against Miami.
"I think we're beginning to come together," Carolina senior Deon Thompson said. "It's been tough and we're still making too many mistakes, but just winning last week [at Wake Forest] gave us some confidence that we could do it again. That's something we've been really needing."
Thompson had 14 points but joined the long list of ailing Tar Heels when he injured an already tender back in the second half and was still visibly in pain almost an hour after the game's completion. He said it wouldn't keep him out of Saturday's final regular-season game at Duke.
"I've never lost there, and it's a great atmosphere to play in," Thompson said. "We're going over there as the underdogs and with a bunch of young pups. But it's not too late for us make this all work."
The Heels, however, are still struggling. The mood in the locker room is brighter, but playmaker Larry Drew II continues to be inconsistent and a liability at the free-throw line in late-game situations.
Reserves, who were instrumental in the win at Wake Forest, contributed very little against the Hurricanes. Other than freshman guard Durand Scott, Miami missed a ton of open shots.
"We're fighting for our lives. There's no other way to put it," Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
In fact, the Tar Heels may not win another game this season. But in what probably was this team's final game in the Smith Center, they finally showed the grit of a team that expected to win.