The Hurricanes are headed to the program’s first ACC Championship game.
Let that sink in a minute as this whirlwind season continues, the accolades rack up and new firsts are accomplished. The madness of March is truly underway and before anything gets lost in the shuffle, this feat in itself is another incredible milestone for this program. Enjoy it.
Miami took out fifth-seed North Carolina State in a game that was all Canes from the get-go, led by ACC Defensive Player Of The Year, Durand Scott, who scored a career-high thirty-two points in the 81-71 third round victory.
The Canes pounces on the Wolfpack early, up 14-5 around the ten minute mark and pushing that lead to 23-10 with seven-and-a-half remaining in the first.
Scott scored Miami’s first five field goals, including the game’s first three-pointer at the 11:24 mark. He buried two more in the next five minutes, helping push the Canes’ lead to thirteen.
Kenny Kadji proved solid from the line and the field early, while Shane Larkin remained in the groove he found on Friday against Boston College. By halftime Miami led 41-29, giving up five unanswered in the half’s final minute, which could’ve been more damaging had North Carolina State not missed three free throw attempts.
The teams traded barbs early in he second half, the Wolfpack outscoring the Canes, 10-7 before a Miami timeout at the 13:10 mark. From there, Larkin and Scott hit some clutch shots and six minutes later, UM had pushed the lead back to thirteen, up 58-45.
The Canes and Wolfpack quickly traded three-pointers and from there, clutch free throw shooting was the difference. Over a ninety-second span Miami went 6-of-6 from the line with Larkin, Kadji and Trey McKinney-Jones holding their own. The Canes led 69-55 when a Julian Gamble rebound and dunk pushed the lead to sixteen with under five to play.
Force to foul, North Carolina State hacked away, but Miami remained clutch, with Larkin going 6-of-6 from the charity stripe in a two-minute span, helping the Canes lead never slip below eight points. Larkin finished with twenty-three points in thirty-nine minutes, going 7-of-15, with one three-pointer on four attempts, but 8-of-10 from the line. He also pulled down seven rebounds and had four assists.
As a team Miami was 26-of-57 (.456) and 6-of-20 (.300) with three-point shooting, but 23-of-30 (.767) with free throw shooting, which proved to be the game’s difference-maker late. North Carolina State was 25-of-50 (.500) in field goal percentage, 7-of-16 (.438) in three-pointers and struggled at the line, going 14-of-25 (.560).
Another telling stat; eighteen second-chance points for UM, with fifteen points off of turnovers.
Miami won the first-half battle, 41-29, but North Carolina State outscored the Canes, 42-40 in the second, never backing down or feeling out of it.
The Hurricanes led the entire game, but the lead never felt safe – especially after the Wolfpack closed the first half strong, and drew to within six early in the second. It seemed every time North Carolina State started to gain an ounce of momentum, Miami – namely Scott – had an answer.
Miami moves to 26-6 on the season and heads to the ACC Championship game on Sunday, taking on North Carolina, who survived Maryland, 79-76 late Saturday. The Terrapins stunned the Blue Devils on Friday, 83-74, which hijacked any potential of a Miami / Duke rematch, as well as a Tar Heels / Blue Devils semifinal.
Miami has faced North Carolina twice this past season, beating the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, 68-59 in mid-January and falling to the Canes, 87-61 in Coral Gables early-February, in one of UM’s most complete efforts of the year against a quality squad.
Sunday’s tip off between the Hurricanes and Tar Heels takes place at 1:00pm ET, with the winner crowned ACC Tournament Champion.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.