Led by an inspirational performance by senior Malcolm Grant, the men’s basketball team, previously winless in conference play, got exactly what it was looking for Wednesday night at the BankUnited Center.
After two tough road losses against conference foes currently ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll, Miami (10-6, 1-2 ACC) defeated Clemson (9-9, 1-3 ACC) in its conference home opener 76-73.
“It’s better to be 1-2 than 0-3, I can tell you that,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said. “I’ll sleep a little better tonight, maybe three hours instead of none.”
Grant, in addition to dropping a team-high 16 points, picked off a crosscourt pass on the final possession to clinch the victory. It was Grant’s first truly productive game since returning to the hardwood following the two games he missed to attend his brother’s funeral.
“I feel like I’m back,” Grant said.
Grant came out Wednesday night with a more relaxed approach after struggling in his first two ACC games with his brother’s death lingering in his mind.
“It still is tough for me,” he said. “I still think about him all the time, I’m still crying here and there.”
Shane Larkin connected on both of his free throw attempts with 5.4 seconds left to extend the Miami lead to three before that final play.
A Trey McKinney Jones three-pointer with the shot clock winding down sparked a 12-0 Miami run that began with seven minutes remaining. Before that shot, Clemson was on a 10-1 run and the Hurricanes’ offense appeared stagnant with nothing but dribbles and passes around the perimeter.
“We were having trouble getting things going, and that shot gave me and the rest of my teammates a little confidence to finish the game strong,” Jones said.
Miami’s scoring output was well balanced, with five Hurricanes finishing in double figures. Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney Jones, Durand Scott and DeQuan Jones joined Grant in that category.
Miami’s ball movement improved immensely from its first two ACC matches with 19 assists on the night.
“We didn’t have very many assists in the last two games … and tonight we get 19,” Larranaga said. “That’s a huge difference in your offense.”
Reggie Johnson, despite his seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks, only had seven points off three field goal attempts on the night. He did not take a shot in the first half. Larranaga talked with Johnson after the game about getting more looks.
Clemson’s Tanner Smith gave Miami headaches, lighting up Larranaga’s defense from the outside. He tied a career-high with four three-pointers made and led all scorers Wednesday with 23 points, 18 of which came in the first half.
“He’s a great player. This conference is filled with great players, so on any given night another player can go off like that,” Grant said. “We cooled him down a little bit in the second half, but I take my hat off to those guys.”
Miami’s next challenge comes Sunday in another ACC showdown at the BankUnited Center against North Carolina State, a team that already has two ACC wins against Maryland and Wake Forest, but suffered a home loss to Georgia Tech. N.C. State faces Boston College Thursday before traveling to Coral Gables.