The well-worn idiom “there’s no place like home” might be best-known as Dorothy’s mantra from “The Wizard Of Oz,” but the latest iteration now belongs to Kamari Murphy. He earned that feeling on Wednesday.
The Miami Hurricanes’ senior forward returned to his hometown of Brooklyn and led UM to a 62-57 victory over Syracuse as the Canes opened play in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at Barclays Center. His 16 points and 10 rebounds led the team, and he had seven consecutive Miami points down the stretch as the victory was secured.
“Oh man, with family and friends coming out, I was hyped to come out here,” Murphy said afterward. “I couldn’t come here and and lose.”
Coach Jim Larrañaga’s guys earned the right to face top-seeded North Carolina at noon Thursday in the same building. UM will be an even bigger underdog than it was Wednesday to the Orange, but discount these Canes at your own risk because they’ve been pleasantly surprising us all season long.
“I think we’ve overachieved with so many young guys,” Larrañaga admitted. “I think we’ve come a long way.”
It was Miami’s 77-62 upset of the Tar Heels on Jan. 28 that seemed to spark the surge. Since then The U has come within five points of winning at No. 4-ranked Louisville, has won on the road against No. 18 Virginia and has beaten No. 10 Duke. Count Wednesday as a nifty win, too, considering the ’Cuse was higher seeded than Miami (albeit only 8 to 9), was a betting favorite and had beaten the Canes 70-55 in early January.
There would be none of that Wednesday as patient UM solved the challenge of Syracuse’s zone defense to not only advance in ACC play but undoubtedly improve its stock with Selection Sunday on the horizon and NCAA Tournament seedings in play. A couple of late free throws by Davon Reed sealed it — Reed, who earlier in the day was presented with an award as the ACC’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Murphy and Reed happen to be UM’s only two seniors, and they arose big in what might have been the biggest game of the season to this point in that it launched the postseason.
The game was played in Syracuse’s home state Wednesday and most fans wore orange, but it was home not only for Murphy but for the Bronx-born Larrañaga. (UM freshman Rodney Miller and assistant coach Chris Caputo also are from in or around Brooklyn.)
“It’s really tough to get out of Brooklyn,” Murphy had said this week. “They say you have to be an artist or an athlete to get out, and I think nine times out of 10 that’s true. Basketball kept me out of trouble. But now I take Brooklyn with me everywhere I go.”
Larrañaga, ever the educator, used his return to an arena he knows well to show his players the sites. The team visited the 102-story One World Trade Center and sampled what the coach called “dirty water hot dogs” from street-corner carts since arriving for the tournament on Sunday. Larrañaga literally served as a tour guide at one point, taking over the microphone on a team bus and narrating the sites (“and on your left is the famous Wall Street bull”).
Hard to imagine now that this began as a rebuilding season for Miami after losing so many key players. Instead, what is now a 21-win season has become Larrañaga’s best coaching job since he guided George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.
On Wednesday, the Canes fell behind 41-40 with 12 minutes to play — their first deficit since 4-3 after a 13-4 Orange run to start the second half. But UM got the lead right back.
“We need teammates cheering!” you heard Larrañaga, mic’d up by ESPN, telling his bench. “Everybody into it, let’s go!”
Soon afterward, he didn’t have to ask as the Canes were celebrating the win — and the latest reason to count this unexpected season as special.