Classes resume at the University of Miami on Monday, and apparently word got around during winter break that the Hurricanes’ men’s basketball team was raising eyebrows in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The often-vacuous BankUnited Center student section was jam-packed with 1,200 kids in orange T-shirts Sunday night, and UM coach Jim Larranaga said that was a big reason the Hurricanes knocked off the University of Maryland 54-47 and are tied with N.C. State for first place in the ACC this morning.
UM (12-3, 3-0 ACC) is off to its best league start since going 5-0 in the Big East to start the 1997-98 season.
A crowd of 5,809 was on hand Sunday, and several times during the game Larranaga emphatically raised his arms up and down to jack up the volume in the building.
“One of the big keys was something we weren’t counting on; the students and crowd were really into it,” Larranaga said. “The second half, I wanted to get them even more excited. … College athletics is supposed to be for the students, and I think it’s really nice that these players are creating that kind of school spirit.”
The Hurricanes were coming off back-to-back road wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina. The win over the Tar Heels was particularly significant because it was in a famous arena and on prime time on ESPN. Larranaga and his team hoped it would spark fans back in Miami to show up for the conference home opener Sunday.
They did, and UM won its seventh home game in a row against the Terps.
The Canes didn’t give their fans much to cheer about in the first half. Although UM led at intermission, the score was only 19-14. It was UM’s lowest first-half output of the season. They shot 27.6 percent for the half, and the Terrapins struggled even more, with 21.4 percent shooting.
Maryland (13-3, 1-2) had won 13 games in a row between a season-opening loss to Kentucky and Wednesday’s three-point loss to Florida State. Sunday’s game was the Terps’ second road trip. They hadn’t played away from home since Nov. 27.
Larranaga urged his team during halftime to share the ball more in the second half. They obliged, fought through their offensive woes and were relentless on defense.
Big man Julian Gamble had a pair of rim-shaking dunks with just over five minutes to go in the game to open up a 39-29 lead over the Terrapins. One was off a perfect pass from Trey McKinney Jones and another was a tip-in dunk off a Durand Scott missed layup.
McKinney Jones then hit a three from the corner, and four free throws in a row to keep the Canes’ lead alive, 50-44, with 38 seconds to go.
“I just wanted to put pressure on the rim, and keep being relentless on defense,” Gamble said. “I knew even when we were struggling to score that we’d make up for it on the defensive end. It’s not always going to be a high-scoring night.”
Kenny Kadji led UM with 14 points. McKinney Jones added 12 and eight rebounds.