Thu Jan 27 11:00am EST
On a night where two Mountain West programs stole the nation's attention, North Carolina preseason All-American wing Harrison Barnes buried two clutch shots to propel the Tar Heels to a 74-71 win at Miami.
UNC typically is at the forefront of the college hoops landscape, but maybe its spot just off of the radar in recent weeks isn't the worst thing in the world.
It certainly appears to be helping the frosh at least a little bit. His offensive struggles since being tapped as the first ever freshman preseason AP All-American have hardly gone unnoticed.
The 6-foot-8 Barnes is shooting just 37.3 percent from the floor, 31.5 percent from deep and has yet to score 20 points in a collegiate game.
But he's found a knack of late for delivering in the clutch.
After dropping some big late scores earlier in the month in a 64-61 come-from-behind victory over Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill, Barnes scored the final five points in Wednesday's win that bumped the Heels to 14-5 overall and a quiet 4-1 in the ACC.
He knocked home a step-back baseline jumper with just over a minute left to tie the game at 71-71, then off of a spectacular — and fortunate — pass from fellow rookie Kendall Marshall, he buried an open three right in front of the UNC bench with 6.6 seconds remaining.
Barnes was 2-for-9 from the floor before that final minute, then finished with 13 points.
"That's the Black Falcon," Marshall said of Barnes afterwards. "He wants the ball at crunch time, he wants to make the big play. He wants to put us on his back."
Making the heroics more impressive was that Barnes had to block out chants of 'over-rated' from the opposing crowd, which he said is becoming more and more common as the season wears on.
"At the end of the day, we won the game — They're entitled to say and chant whatever they want," Barnes said. "I just feel really comfortable shooting that shot. A lot of people might not feel comfortable, might second-guess themselves. But in that moment in time, I feel comfortable enough in my ability."
But then there's the golden question: When does this start translating into more consistent, prolific results for an entire game?
The recent confidence-builders could be a nice starting point.
Especially while the national microscope is focused elsewhere.