The expectations were high for the Miami men’s basketball team before the season began. Sixteen games later, the Canes have lived up to the lofty standards.
Miami held off Boston College on Wednesday in a 60-59 game that came down to the wire. Senior Durand Scott scored four of his team-high 15 points at the free-throw line in the final 30 seconds.
The Hurricanes led 60-57 when Scott fouled Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan on a desperation 3-point attempt with less than one second remaining. Hanlan – who led Boston College (9-8, 1-3 ACC) with 17 points – missed the potential tying free throw, and Miami escaped with its fourth straight conference win.
The Canes (13-3, 4-0 ACC) extended their overall winning streak to five. With North Carolina State suffering its first ACC loss to Maryland, UM now has the top spot in the conference with a spotless 4-0 record.
It certainly wasn’t pretty Sunday night at the Bank United Center when Miami (12-3, 3-0) beat Maryland 54-47 to improve their ACC record to 3-0, but in the end the Hurricanes came through and the reward was the best start to league play since Miami joined the ACC in 2004-2005.
Both teams struggled offensively, especially in the first half, with Miami leading 19-14 at halftime. The visiting Terps, who averaged 76.7 points per game (fourth in the ACC) coming into Sunday’s game, went 0-6 from beyond the arc while the Canes missed all four of their free throws and only had five assists in the first half.
“When we went into halftime coach L told us that we were playing pretty much one-on-one basketball,” sophomore point guard Shane Larkin said. “We weren’t sharing the basketball and that’s a huge thing in basketball, to share the ball, get everybody involved. And I think in the second half we were just driving, kicking, feeding the bigs, cutting to the basket and when everybody started touching the ball we just had a better second half scoring the basketball.”
Larkin left his mark on the game with 10 points, four rebounds, six assists and no turnovers, but it was timely buckets by redshirt senior center Julian Gamble and clutch free throws by senior guard Trey McKinney Jones that sealed the deal down the stretch. Gamble would finish with eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks while McKinney Jones added 12 points, eight rebounds and a game-high seven assists. Senior center Kenny Kadji was the leading scorer for the Canes with 14, carrying the load offensively with fellow senior center Reggie Johnson still out with a broken thumb.
The Canes’ defense was suffocating the Terps, at times holding them scoreless for stretches of four or five minutes. But both teams were physical in what Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon described as a “slugfest” and a “heavyweight fight.”
Head coach Jim Larranaga, who earned his 500th career win eight days earlier against Georgia Tech, agreed.
“It was a very physical, very aggressive game and it’s hard to score when guys [are]fighting you so hard, not leaving you any room to work,” he said. “You know, what players like is separation, space. If they don’t get that space, they’re not quite as comfortable. And both teams did a great job of playing that kind of defense.”
In Maryland, the Canes have now beaten yet another quality opponent, adding to their already impressive resume: Miami ranks fifth in RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) according to NCAA.com and first in strength of schedule according to ESPN.com. The Hurricanes also received nine votes in the AP poll and eight in the USA TODAY poll.
But even with the best ACC start in program history, Larranaga tries to keep his players grounded.
“Basically it means we have 15 more games,” he said. “You know, it’s very, very early in the conference race. Anything can happen.”
The team now has a week to prepare for No. 3 Duke, who the Hurricanes will take on in the BankUnited Center on Wednesday night.