No, these aren’t your big brother’s Duke Blue Devils. Hell, this isn’t even a shell of last year’s Durham-based squad who won the national championship—three freshman stars declaring for the NBA Draft, with two role-playing seniors graduating.
Even with that, it’s a traditional powerhouse, a standard conference road block and and a confidence-builder for a Miami Hurricanes squad that’s struggled in recent weeks. Beating Duke in basketball always matters—the same way the gridiron Blue Devils would relish a win over “The U”.
Miami pulled away late for the 80-69 victory after Duke made it a five-point game with 5:17 remaining—the Hurricanes outscoring the Blue Devils, 20-14 down the stretch. Miami led the game’s final 24 minutes.
Duke came into Monday’s showdown ranked fifth in the nation in scoring (85.7 points-per-game) but only shot 42-percent against Miami and went 6-for-20 from three-point range. The Canes’ man-to-man defense also seemed to the rattle the Blue Devils; who average 26 free throws a game, but were limited to 17 and only hit 13.
Angel Rodriguez hit three 3-pointers in the win, while dishing out 11 assists—including a few that set up some posterizing-style exclamation-point dunks for teammates, including Sheldon McClellan, who scored a game-high 21 points.
The Rodriguez-to-McClellan hook-up came on the heels of a missed 3-pointer by Brandon Ingram that would’ve cut Miami’s lead to four. Instead, Rodriguez pulled down the defensive rebound, appeared to be driving the lane and dished off to a streaking McClellan, pushing the Canes lead to nine and bringing The BUC to its feet.
Ja’Quan Newton had 15 for the Canes, while Davon Reed followed with 14. Rodriguez was good for 13 on the night, while Miami was 13-for-17 from the line and 7-for-20 from beyond-the-arc. All three of Rodriguez’ three-point makes came in the first half, helping push the Canes to a lead they never relinquished.
Tonye Jekiri had a 10-rebound night for Miami—six offensive—and was crucial late for the Canes with two assists from the perimeter on back-to-back possessions that helped cushion the lead late.
“Our playmaker,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said, post-game. “Those were beautiful.” Larranaga was also quick to hang too much on the win over Duke, making it clear that this truly was “just another game”.
“Every game counts as one,” Larranaga cautioned. “You beat Duke, it counts as one.”
Sage-like as that advice might sound, Miami’s leader might need to reel his team back in as their Ran-Off-The-Plug-Twice locker room Piles-like throw down might’ve had some believing the Canes just cut down the net at the title game.
That sentiment has nothing to do with kids being kids or a knock on how Miami chose to celebrate. It’s simply an act-like-you’ve-been-there-before type thing.
This was certainly a quality win, but the post-game antics—coupled with fans at The BUC dropping an “o-ver-ra-ted” chant, despite the Canes being ranked No. 15 to the Blue Devils’ No. 24; it’s time Miami shifts its focus to closing strong and making a deep post-season run.
Recent losses to Virginia and Clemson should weigh on the Canes any more than a win over the Blue Devils is cause for elation. Yes, Miami was 2-15 against Duke in the pre-Larranaga era and have won four of six since this takeover.
Still, in the middle of a long season where stakes are high and larger goals are yet to be reached—it’s all about keeping things even keel. Soak up Monday’s big win, but realize it’s all for naught should Miami stumble at North Carolina State this weekend.
The Canes had to shake off losses to the Cavaliers and Tigers, regrouping for back-to-back wins against Boston College and Wake Forest. This week’s challenge; shake off what was a meaningful win for this team against the defending national champions as several big—as well as bigger—games loom.
Notre Dame, twice. A road showdown at North Carolina. Home games against Virginia and Louisville. A trek north to Tallahassee. Two games against a Virginia Tech squad that would revel in upsets of Miami.
11 games until the Canes will find out their conference tourney seeding, which will set the stage for March Madness. Stay focus and aim high.