Wednesday night is exactly what Jim Larranaga envisioned when he took over the University of Miami men’s basketball program: Thousands of orange-clad students storming the BankUnited Center floor, chanting “A-C-C!,” hoisting up their sweaty Hurricane heroes and feathered mascot after upsetting No. 13 Michigan State 67-59.
The Goodyear blimp hovering overhead. ESPN cameras rolling. A traffic jam — yes, a traffic jam — on U.S. 1 and Ponce de Leon Boulevard heading into campus before the game. Scalpers skulking around the parking lots. A special section of seats for the 29 NBA scouts in attendance, among them former UM coach Perry Clark, now a scout for the Utah Jazz.
Larranaga said he soaked in the postgame scene and thought to himself: “This is what college basketball is all about. It’s about students getting involved. You’ll forget your chemistry test and your English paper. But you won’t forget running on the floor, being on TV, everybody around you is thrilled. This will be the buzz on campus [Thursday]. You’ll go to class and people will be saying, ‘Were you at the game?’ And if you say, ‘No,’ they’ll say, ‘Ohhhhh, you missed it.’ ”
Senior guard Trey McKinney Jones scored a career-high 18 points and made five of his seven three-point attempts, including one that capped a 14-2 run at the start of the second half. That basket opened up a 41-33 lead for the Hurricanes and sent the crowd of 5,791 into a frenzy. The UM lead stretched to as many as 12 points (57-45) and then the Canes sealed the win with 8-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line down the stretch.
It was especially significant because it was the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It was also the Hurricanes’ first nonconference win over a ranked opponent since 2004, when they won at the University of Florida, and the first home win over a ranked nonconference opponent since December 2001, when they beat Indiana in the Orange Bowl Classic.
Guards Shane Larkin and Durand Scott had 15 points apiece, and center Reggie Johnson, who battled 270-pound Derrick Nix inside, finished with 10 points and 11 defensive rebounds. Nix was held to three points and five rebounds.
For the game, the Hurricanes made 16 of 18 free throws (89 percent), and they were 5 of 8 from the three-point arc in the second half.
UM had many memorable plays, but one that made a huge difference came with 7:39 remaining. Michigan State’s Adreian Payne missed a dunk, UM’s Kenny Kadji grabbed the rebound and McKinney Jones hit a three at the other end of the floor to break open a 10-point lead, 55-45. Spartans coach Tom Izzo called that three “a back-breaker.”
With 1:53 to go and the lead still at 10, Johnson wrapped his giant hands around the ball after a missed free throw by Gary Harris, and held on tight. Nope, the Hurricanes weren’t going to blow this one. They were going to hang onto that lead for dear life because a win over a perennial power like Michigan State would help the Canes forget about those embarrassing losses to St. Leo’s and Florida Gulf Coast.
When it was all over, and the clock was running down, Johnson hopped up and down like a giant kid on a pogo stick. Larkin chest bumped with Kadji. Buzzer. Bedlam.
The fans lifted Scott above their heads.
“Kudos to our fans, they were rockin’,” Johnson said. “That’s what we feel like when we play on the road at Duke and Carolina. ... But it’s not the highlight of our season to beat MSU. It’s a good win, but it’s not like, ‘Oh, we beat MSU, season’s over.’ ”
Larranaga clearly had preached that message.
“This is our November highlight,” said Larranaga, who got a congratulatory call from football coach Al Golden during the postgame news conference. “We’ve got UMass coming up Dec. 1. The whole point of the nonconference schedule is to position yourself for an at-large bid and get your RPI into the top 40. I told our guys they have to practice and play with that same intensity every day. There is no excuse not to do that, and if they do, they’re gonna like the results.”
Keith Appling led the Spartans with 15 points, and Harris added 12.
“Hats off to Miami,” Izzo said. “They played better than us.”