Championship chance for powerful Hurricanes
Miami spent an entire season swatting away the doubters.
If it wasn’t their first 13 ACC foes, it was pundits nationwide. Particularly within the ACC footprint.
Saturday it was N.C. State’s second turn for a dose of reality. Miami’s got veterans, and Miami’s got game, including its first championship game.
The Wolfpack was pesky throughout but 32 points from Durand Scott and a commanding floor game from sophomore Shane Larkin rolled the Hurricanes into today’s final, 81-71.
The Wolfpack (24-10) went through its roster trying to guard Scott, never got the sustained offensive firepower necessary from senior Scott Wood and junior C.J. Leslie and eventually found the mountain of the nation’s ninth-ranked team and a third game in as many days its Greensboro Coliseum stopping point.
“I just put everything on my teammates,” Scott said. “They are the ones that find me out there, got me open.”
Scott was 12 of 18 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from 3-point territory.
Larkin added 23 points and Julian Gamble, a sixth-year senior from nearby Durham, added 10. Powerful Kenny Kadji added eight points and nine rebounds.
Miami (26-6), its hopes alive for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, was the first school other than Duke or North Carolina to start the season 13-0 in league play since Virginia in 1981. And it was only fitting that the Hurricanes would get the chance to bookend their spectacular start by advancing to Sunday’s final.
“How many people picked us to win this tournament? Like two, I think?” said Kenny Kadji. “We love that. We love to be the underdog. It started like that at the beginning of the season, and I hope it ends like that.”
Wood, making six of his last eight from 3-point range, managed 21 points for the Wolfpack, which hasn’t won the title since 1987. C.J. Leslie added 14 points despite missing eight shots, T.J. Warren scored 13 points before fouling out and Richard Howell had eight points and 11 rebounds.
In the second half, Howell had four rebounds and scored once with the outcome no longer in doubt.
Gamble said the Hurricanes recognized Scott was dialed in early.
“Probably after the first couple of shots,” Gamble said. “He gets that look in his eye, and you know he’s going to have a big day.”
Midway of the second half, the Wolfpack and its majority fans desperate, Rodney Purvis converted a turnover but Larkin answered. When Wood drained a 3-pointer to cut the margin to six, it was the Hurricanes turning an offensive rebound into a Scott 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key.
Larkin added a soft kiss off the glass and rim and any doubt was gone.
“I thought Scott was unbelievable today,” said N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried. “He played extremely well, him and Larkin together.”
The Wolfpack kept managing rallies, and the Hurricanes kept blowing them away, all the way into the championship.
“I am really happy that we won this game and got another chance to go out there and win a championship,” Scott said.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Gamble added. “It’s not something that has happened in our school history.
But to have an opportunity to go out and play for an ACC championship, in arguably the best league in the country, and to be a school from Miami and not a school that is one of the North Carolina schools, it means a lot to us. And we really take a lot of pride in it and plan to go out and play our best basketball.”
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