This is not how the story was supposed to unfold for the sixth-ranked University of Miami men’s basketball team Wednesday night, with a packed BankUnited Center silenced, jubilant Georgia Tech players piling onto each other on the floor and the Hurricanes trudging off following a 71-69 loss at the buzzer to the unranked Yellow Jackets.
There had been plans for the Hurricanes to cut down the nets after clinching the first outright Atlantic Coast Conference title in school history. Word is there was even an ACC season montage ready to roll.
Instead, UM squandered a nine-point lead in the final 10 minutes as the Yellow Jackets got the win on a putback by freshman Marcus Georges-Hunt with less than a second remaining.
Georgia Tech, a 16-13 team with a 6-11 league record pulled off the stunner over the ACC-leading Hurricanes.
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It was the third loss in the past four games for the Hurricanes after winning 14 in a row. It was also their first home loss of the season. They had been 13-0 at home, and had won 10 straight home ACC games dating to last season.
They dropped to 23-6 and 14-3 in the conference. Now, they need a win at home Saturday in the season finale against Clemson to clinch the league regular-season title outright.
“When you take your foot off the pedal, it’s hard to get it back,’’ UM coach Jim Larranaga said. “All you have to do is let up a little bit on defense, and it makes a huge difference.”
UM led by as many as 12 on Wednesday, and the score was tied 69-69 with a minute to go. Still, the fans had hope.
But senior forward Kenny Kadji, who led the Canes with 18 points and looked unstoppable in the first half, heaved up two bad shots. Then, senior guard Durand Scott, who had 17 points, made an ill-timed pass and the ball was stolen.
“Durand saw me a little late,’’ Julian Gamble said. “If that pass had been a foot higher, it would have been a completion to the basket.’’
Georgia Tech raced up the floor with 28 seconds to go, and as the clock expired, Carter Jr. took a shot in traffic, missed, and fellow freshman Georges-Hunt tipped it in.
The near-sellout crowd of 7,394 was stunned.
A pair of free throws by Gamble had given the Hurricanes a 60-51 lead, but Georgia Tech was not ready to fold. Yellow Jackets freshman guard Chris Bolden, who averaged 6.8 points before Wednesday, hit a pair of threes in a 14-4 run and finished with a career-high 21 points.
With 2:07 to go, it was knotted at 69 after Tech center Daniel Miller found himself alone in the lane and scored on an easy layup. Miller, who averaged 8.1 points per this season before Wednesday, scorched the Canes for 17.
For the first two-thirds of the game, it appeared the Hurricanes were on their way to another season milestone.
After falling behind 12-9 early, they reeled off the next 14 points to take a 25-14 lead. Kadji hit two threes in that stretch, and the Hurricanes were shooting 78.6 percent at the 10-minute mark. UM led 43-32 at halftime.
But UM’s defense let up at times, and Tech capitalized. The Canes also got cold from outside, going 1 for 10 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“We told our guys to put this game behind us and focus on Clemson,’’ Larranaga said. “We still have a chance to be outright ACC champions, but guys need to be highly motivated to play better. Sometimes they’re highly motivated to score, but if you don’t defend, it’s real, real hard to win.”
Despite the loss, UM already earned the top seed in next week’s ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C.. The Hurricanes get a bye in the first round and play their quarterfinal March 15 at noon against the winner of Thursday’s No. 8-No. 9 game.