The clock was ticking down at the Watsco Center late Wednesday night; the University of Miami’s 17-point lead over Boston College had dwindled to two with six seconds to go; and Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga appealed to a higher power.
“I was talking to myself, like my high school coach used to do, and I was praying the rosary,” Larrañaga said. “I said three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and a couple of Glory Bes.”
His prayers worked.
Despite a five-minute scoring drought at the end of the first half, costly late turnovers and a furious Eagles rally in the closing seconds, the Canes got back on the winning track with a 78-77 victory.
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After losing four of five games, UM improved to 13-6 overall and 3-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Ja’Quan Newton led Miami with a career-high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Davon Reed had 17 and Bruce Brown added 12.
The 9 p.m. tipoff meant the building was emptier and quieter than usual.
But after two weeks on the road in front of hostile crowds — including Saturday’s unraveling to the delight of Duke’s Cameron Crazies — the Hurricanes were happy to be back home where everything was familiar, down to the Adidas ball and the pep band.
When the game was hanging in the balance in the closing seconds, the crowd was cheering for the Hurricanes. That made a big difference.
“It was good to be on the other end of a close game once in a while,” Reed said.
“It was very important to win this game,” Brown said. “We knew we needed to take care of home court and get on the right track. In the final seconds, I knew I was going to make the free throws.”
Miami, which had struggled at the free-throw line for most of the season, converted its final 13 attempts on Wednesday. That proved to be the difference.
Boston College guard Ky Bowman entered the game as one of the hottest freshmen in the nation, having just scorched ninth-ranked North Carolina for 33 points — 21 of them on seven three-pointers. His hair, dyed crimson red to match the Eagles’ uniforms, made him an instant standout.
Once the opening whistle blew, he immediately showed why he is raising eyebrows. Bowman hit a three to start the game and give the Eagles (9-12, 2-6) an early lead. But Reed answered with a three of his own a few seconds later, Newton followed with a layup to put the Canes ahead and they never trailed again.
Miami dictated the pace the rest of the half but hit a cold spell and went scoreless for the final 5:25 before intermission while the Eagles went on a 7-0 run.
Boston College came out sharp in the second half, Bowman hit another three and an A.J. Turner dunk shrunk UM’s lead to four points with 16 minutes to go. The Hurricanes countered with a pair of threes by Anthony Lawrence and Brown, and had opened up a 17-point lead with 8:52 to go.
BC fought back, but the deficit was too big to overcome.
“You can’t have 22-point halves in this league and expect to win games,” said Eagles coach Jim Christian, whose team trailed 30-22 at halftime.
Jerome Robinson had been averaging 19 points heading into the game and finished with a game-high 27 on 9-of-18 shooting. Bowman (10 points) and Robinson combined for 51 points against the Tar Heels. The Hurricanes held them to 37.
“I’m very pleased with the victory,” Larrañaga said. “We struggled mightily against Wake [Forest] and Duke. We played pretty hard and pretty well [against BC]. Give a lot of credit to Boston College for roaring back. We knew they were capable of doing that.”
The evening was extra special for the UM coach because several of his elementary and high school teammates were there before the game, when he was presented with a special jersey and banner for winning his 600th game last week.
The Canes are back at home at 1 p.m. Saturday against North Carolina.