Normally, 3.2 seconds is not a very long time, but it was more than enough for Darius Rice to salvage a season that was in dire straits. It was also long enough to provide an ESPN nationally televised audience with an improbable ending to one of the best college basketball games in recent memory.
Rice’s steal of Shamon Tooles’s inbounds pass and fade away three pointer with 0.5 seconds left gave the Hurricane men’s basketball team a shocking 77-76 upset of the eighth ranked University of Connecticut Huskies. Rice led all scorers with a career high 43 points on 16-of-27 shooting, shattering his previous mark of 35 points against Central Florida during his freshman year.
Ben Gordon led the Huskies with 32 points while hitting on 12 of his 14 shots, but it was not enough to take the spotlight off of Rice, who scored 27 of his team’s 39 points in the first half.
“Tonight the basket was as big as the ocean for me,” Rice said. “I hope to have more nights like this in the near future.”
The game was only the second men’s basketball contest at the brand new Convocation Center. Although the general admission seats were not filled to capacity, the student section was loud and energetic. Rice said the atmosphere was one most college basketball players dream about.
“We play for our school and our fans,” Rice said. “It’s great to be able to give them a great game and hear them cheer for us.”
The Hurricanes dominated the first half of the game as Rice provided most of the scoring while senior captain James Jones was on the bench with foul trouble. A late 6-0 spurt by the Huskies cut Miami’s lead to 39-31 at intermission.
The second half featured the two Big East rivals trading shot for shot throughout much of the final 20 minutes. The Huskies were able to contain Rice for most of the half and recaptured the lead (52-51) on a Gordon dunk with 9:30 remaining in the game.
“Rice played a tremendous game where he couldn’t be stopped at all,” Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun said. “We made a few adjustments defensively to slow him down a bit in the second half, but he was on fire.”
The game seemed to be over when Gordon hit a jumper to increase the Huskies lead to five with 1:12 left, but the ‘Canes showed a lot of poise in the final minute, utilizing timely fouls and three Armondo Surratt lay-ups to keep their slim hopes alive.
“It was important for Armondo not to chase bad shots during that final minute,” head coach Perry Clark said. “He helped us stay in a position to win the game.”
After a Surratt drive cut the Huskies lead to 76-74 with 3.2 seconds left, it appeared that all the Huskies had to do was inbound the ball and get fouled, thus ending UM’s chances. However, Tooles rushed an errant pass to Taliek Brown, which Rice deflected. Then the junior had the presence of mind to step behind the three-point line before attempting the game winner.
“I just stuck my hand out and once I got my hands on the ball I knew it was going in,” Rice said. “I give a lot of my teammates credit for helping us get this win.”
There were many NBA scouts in attendance at the game, but Rice claims it had no effect on his game.
“I honestly don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Rice said.
Miami is riding high after improving their position to 8-7 overall (1-3 Big East), while Connecticut dropped to 11-3 (2-1). Calhoun is worried that the sting of this loss could haunt them for a long time.
“I’m devastated and the players are all devastated,” Calhoun said. “I thought we had this game won and any time you lose a game like that it is hard to swallow. I give Miami a lot of credit though.”
Clark, on the other hand, was elated about the final result.
“I am very proud of this team and our effort tonight,” Clark said. “It is a shame that someone had to lose this game.”
You can reach Eric Kalis at email@example.com.