Miami Hurricanes point guard Ja’Quan Newton is from Philadelphia, where a reputation as a baller is hard-fought and built by winning battle after battle, year after year.
Newton was not available for postgame interviews Saturday, but you can bet the 6-2 junior was extra-hyped to face North Carolina State 6-3 freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr., who was named a preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference player before he spent a minute in the league.
That couldn’t have sat well with Newton, and Saturday’s performance proved it as the Miami point guard scored a team-high 21 points to lead the host Canes to an 81-63 win over N.C. State.
Miami’s Davon Reed, who scored 20 points, said the Canes didn’t do anything special to get ready for Smith.
“With all due respect, [Smith is] a talented player, but we treat him like any other player in this league,” Reed said. “There are a lot of talented players in this league. Ja’Quan or anyone on this team is ready to match up against whomever.”
Smith was held to just four points at halftime as Newton seemed to take the challenge personally. Smith ended up with 21 points, making three straight three-pointers in the final six minutes after Miami had built a lead in excess of 15 points.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried was asked if Smith will face more of the type of defense played by Miami as teams try to deny the projected NBA lottery pick access to the lane.
“I’m sure they are — people will try to make a name,” Gottfried said. “That’s part of being Dennis Smith. He better learn quick, and he will. He knows that he will get everybody’s best shot like he did [Saturday]. Ja’Quan played great.”
Miami (11-2, 1-0) won its 21st consecutive home game.
North Carolina State (11-3, 0-1) had its six-game win streak snapped.
Newton, who made 7 of 15 shots, played 34 minutes — one less than Smith. When Smith was on the court, Newton was usually close enough to hear him breathe.
But it wasn’t all Newton, of course. Reed scored 12 of his 20 points in the first half, when Miami built a 41-32 lead.
Canes freshman Bruce Brown scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half as Miami led by as many as 20. Brown also had a team-high four assists, a game-high three steals and was sensational in blocking a shot by Wolfpack 7-footer Omer Yurtseven.
Miami also got a double-double from forward Kamari Murphy, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Canes led virtually the entire game, scoring 17 points off 15 Wolfpack turnovers. Miami also outscored N.C. State 26 to 12 on second-chance points, 13 to 2 on fast-break points and 40 to 16 on points in the paint.
Miami’s win came on a day of upheaval in the ACC as No. 5 Duke lost to Virginia Tech, No. 9 North Carolina fell to Georgia Tech and No. 12 Virginia was beaten by No. 20 Florida State.
“Those were impressive victories,” Canes coach Jim Larrañaga said.
Gottfried, who is in his sixth year in the league, said this could be the best the ACC has been during that span.
“It’s been a great league every year,” he said. “But I think this is the deepest it’s been. But I think what we have to understand is that tough losses count as just one loss. It’s not three or four – it’s one.”