Coming off the biggest win of the season against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, it would’ve been easy for Miami to feel satisfied and come in lackadaisical in a conference duel against the lowly but feisty Virginia Tech Hokies.
But the Hurricanes are proving that their hot play is no fluke.
For the first time in school history, the men’s basketball team, who moved from the Big East to the ACC in 2004, has won five consecutive ACC games.
Miami (15-7, 6-3 ACC) defeated Virginia Tech (13-11, 2-7 ACC) 65-49 late Thursday at the BankUnited Center on a night where theHurricanes never trailed.
Reggie Johnson, Miami’s 6-10, 293 lb. junior center, coming off his career game against Duke, led the Hurricanes once again with 15 points and seven rebounds. The big man was also effective passing the ball out of double teams in the low post with four assists.
While Johnson’s now led the team in scoring for two straight games, coach Jim Larranaga is pleased with the offensive balance he’s received not only Thursday night but throughout the winning streak.
“One night it’s Kenny [Kadji], one night it’s Durand [Scott], one night it’s Malcolm [Grant],” Larranaga says. “When you have different guys lead you in scoring, that’s important.”
Freshman point guard Shane Larkin registered 14 points and four assists. He connected on three of his five three-point attempts.
Larkin says he received a little added motivation on the floor Thursday.
“One of the players on the other team, he just started talking mess, and whenever a player talks mess to me it makes me rise to the occasion,” he said. “He just hyped me up and it just showed him my game.”
When asked which Hokie got in his ear, Larranaga cut Larkin off and insisted he not give it away.
The Hurricane defense suffocated the Hokies from tip to buzzer. The 49 points Miami gave up is tied for the season low scored against them. Virginia Tech shot 35 percent on the night and committed 17 turnovers.
“Turnovers weren’t a product of anything but ourselves,” Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “It wasn’t that they made us turn the ball over, it was just we didn’t play well.”
Kenny Kadji and DeQuan Jones stepped up defensively with three blocks apiece.
An 8-0 Virginia Tech run where the Hokies stifled the Canes with the 1-3-1 zone cut the Miami lead to five with 7:58 remaining frightened the home crowd momentarily, but back-to-back threes by Trey McKinney Jones and Shane Larkin eased the tension and got the Canes back up by double figures.
“We had one bad segment against the 1-3-1,” Larranaga said. “I probably should’ve called a couple of timeouts during that stretch, but I wanted the players to work it out. Then when they didn’t I finally called the timeout. We were able to get a couple of threes.”
Despite the five-game winning streak the team is currently on, they’re not allowing it to get to their heads.
“We’re on a roll right now and I just want to keep it going,” Johnson said. “The season’s not over yet. We still have seven games left so we still have to keep it rolling. I’m not thinking about [the streak]at all right now.”
“It’s definitely a great feeling knowing that we’re playing great going into a crucial part of the season and hopefully we could just keep that up,” says Larkin.
Certain aspects of Thursday’s game still bother Larranaga. The backcourt combo of Scott and Grant scored a combined six points and collectively went 2-for-16 from the floor. The team was also outrebounded 40-32. Larranaga would like to see that number improve down the stretch.
Erick Green, Virginia Tech’s leading scorer, finished the night with a game high 17 points. He was the only Hokie to finish in double figures.
Miami led 30-22 at the half with a balanced offensive attack that saw seven different Hurricanes score. The Canes went on a 10-0 run during a Hokie scoring drought of over six minutes. Virginia Tech answered back with a 10-0 run of their own once Miami had its largest lead of 16 after Reggie Johnson sank his second career three-pointer, which put the home crowd in a frenzy.
“We were very concerned at halftime that we had given them the momentum and that we would have to fight to get it back,” says Larranaga.
The Canes’ first half defensively was extremely disciplined, only committing one foul the entire period.
Larranaga got the chance to empty his bench Thursday and play walk-ons Ryan Quigtar and Justin Heller.
The Canes get one day off Friday before traveling upstate for a Saturday showdown with rival Florida State, ranked 15th in the nation. It doesn’t get any easier after that as the team then returns home Wednesday Feb. 15 to face No. 5 North Carolina.
Miami has not fared well against Florida State (16-7, 7-2 ACC) as of late. The Canes have lost five in a row to the Seminoles and 10 of the last 11, but the team is not shying away from the challenge and is confident it can give former UM coach Leonard Hamilton a run for his money.
“It’s a new season, new coach, new players,” Johnson says. “In the past we had losses against Duke, but we stayed together. Maryland- the same way, but we stayed together. And we’re staying together right now.”