A packed arena on the University of Miami campus. Dick Vitale courtside, screaming superlatives into his microphone. And the 12th-ranked University of Miami Hurricanes, igniting the crowd with rim-shaking dunks and timely three-pointers as they pull away from the Florida State Seminoles.
It was exactly the kind of night coach Leonard Hamilton dreamed about when he toiled in relative obscurity as UM coach at Miami Arena two decades ago. On Saturday, he coached from the visiting bench as the Canes led wire-to-wire and defeated the Noles 72-59 at BankUnited Center.
UM senior guard Sheldon McClellan broke the game open in the second half with slick moves to the rim, perfect 7-for-7 shooting and tenacious defense. He scored 20 of his game-high 21 points after intermission.
“Once he got going in the second half, we just tried to keep getting the ball to him,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “He had 20 in the second half, and he did it all kinds of ways — jump shots, he hit a couple of threes, layups, steals. He was outstanding.
“He was 0 for 4 in the first half, but every one of those was a good shot. He just missed a couple. In the second half, he made his first, had a beautiful driving layup, and then once he got it going, it was nonstop. He was red-hot the whole half.”
McClellan said it was “all about confidence,” and he got a boost when he made a few layups.
“I felt like it was my time to take over the game and have a bigger impact than I did the first half,” he said. “It was just more of an aggressive mind-set in the second half.’’
Ja’Quan Newton came off the bench and scored 13 points with four assists. Davon Reed added 12, and 7-foot senior center Tonye Jekiri had eight points, 10 rebounds, and a rare coast-to-coast dunk and Eurostep move that drew a loud roar from the crowd of 7,972. The only other time the building got that loud was when new UM football coach Mark Richt was shown courtside, throwing up the “U’’ and pumping his fist.
“I’ve never seen Tonye do that, not even in practice,’’ Larrañaga said. “Normally, he gives it up right away. But when he saw the open court, he just kept going. Once he got by [Devon Bookert], it was clear sailing to the basket, and the crowd went crazy. That was very, very exciting.”
Hamilton was equally impressed
“[Jekiri’s] made as much improvement from freshman to now as anybody in America,’’ Hamilton said. “If there was award for Most Improved Basketball Player over four years, he gets my vote. He’s grown tremendously. To be able to go from where he started to a guy who takes the ball the length of the floor and makes a finishing play, you’ve got to congratulate him. It tells you the type of job they’ve done here developing him and how much work he’s put in.”
Last season, FSU lost by four after mounting a heroic comeback, as Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 30 points in the final 4:38 of the game. This time there was no late-game drama.
FSU closed to within three early in the second half, but Miami responded with a 15-1 run fueled by 10 McClellan points. The Seminoles, who scored 90 points in a loss to North Carolina five days earlier, were held to 10 percent three-point shooting and 35 percent shooting overall.
“Our kids played hard, but we got beat by a team that’s a little more mature and made better decisions,” Hamilton said. “They have a great combination of players that give you different looks — great penetrators, guys who are great standing jump shooters, and they attack the basket very well.”
Despite the loss, Hamilton took time to praise the progress UM basketball has made under Larrañaga.
“I’m glad to see the community embrace this team and create an atmosphere that’s typical of all other ACC venues,’’ he said. “The ACC is the best conference in history, and Miami has developed a team as competitive as any other team and now they have the atmosphere here. It’s a credit to the university and the great job Larrañaga’s doing.’’
The Hurricanes play Tuesday at No. 4 Virginia, which lost Saturday. FSU is at N.C. State on Wednesday.