It was louder than it sounded on TV. Much louder. So loud that Dick Vitale looked like a silent movie actor from a few yards away. So loud that University of Miami coach Jim Larranaga’s famous piercing whistle was muted. So loud that reporters sitting directly in front of Duke’s student section had to cover their ears.
The decibel level in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday evening spoke volumes about how far the Hurricanes basketball program has come. So did the eruption of the Duke bench, and coach Mike Krzyzewski’s jubilation at midcourt after the game. The No. 3 Blue Devils were downright elated to edge No. 5 Miami 79-76 in a thrilling game as electric as the atmosphere in which it was played.
UM had embarrassed then-top-ranked Duke by 27 points earlier this season in Coral Gables, and last February pulled off an overtime upset of the Blue Devils on their home court. On Saturday night, the Hurricanes never looked intimidated, weathered the rowdy crowd, and nearly pulled off another shocker.
They led by as many as seven in the first half and led by two at halftime. Trailing by two with 39 seconds left in regulation, the Hurricanes had the ball exactly where they wanted it — in the trusty hands of sophomore point guard Shane Larkin, who had put up 25 points.
But Larkin’s pass to Rion Brown in front of the UM bench didn’t go as planned. Brown bobbled it, and Duke 6-11 forward Ryan Kelly got the steal, which made sense, considering the night he was having. It was a performance Larranaga later described as “quite frankly, ridiculous.” Krzyzewski called it “one for the ages.”
Kelly hadn’t played since injuring his foot Jan. 8, and it wasn’t certain until game time that he’d play Saturday. He wound up scoring a career-high 36 points in 32 minutes on 10-of-14 shooting. Each time he scored, the Duke fans went berserk, and their adulation grew as the night wore on. Kelly had 20 points by halftime. He provided 45.7 percent of Duke’s points for the night.
The Hurricanes tried three or four different players on Kelly, and none could corral him. He made seven of nine three-point attempts, and when he wasn’t drilling the Canes from outside, he was driving to his right, getting fouled, and converting his free throws.
“I thought we prepared for Ryan Kelly, but obviously not for that Ryan Kelly,” Larranaga said.
“He was sensational from start to finish. My hat is off to him. We needed to play a little better down the stretch.”
UM had two final chances to tie it up in the waning seconds, but Larkin’s three fell short, Durand Scott got the rebound, kicked it over to Brown in the corner, but Brown’s three-point shot clanked off the rim as the horn sounded. The contingent of about 100 spirited UM fans — including famous football alum Warren Sapp — finally lost hope.
The Cameron Crazies went into full crazy mode, wigs flying, high-fiving, and Coach K in the middle of the bedlam, raising his arms and shouting with glee.
“Wow, what a game,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re such a good basketball team. Larkin’s a great player. I think he’s the best guard by far in the league. He’s magical out there. Such poise. [Kenny] Kadji, these guys are so talented. You can see why they’re leading our conference and having the spectacular year they’re having.”
The Hurricanes (23-5) remain in first place in the conference with a 14-2 league record with two games remaining. They have clinched the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament. Duke improved to 25-4 and 12-4 in the ACC.
Kadji had 17 points and 10 rebounds for UM. Scott and Trey McKinney Jones added 10 points apiece. Larranaga started Reggie Johnson at center for the first time since December, and the 290-pound center had to endure taunts from the Duke students. “Eat more salad!” they chanted. He had an off night, going 0 for 5 in 17 minutes.
Quinn Cook, who had gone 1 for 12 against UM the last time, had 15 points Saturday. After nailing a three with two minutes to go, he slapped the floor, a nod to the Duke tradition. The Canes, on the urging of Sapp, had slapped the floor during that 27-point win in Coral Gables, and Cook never forgot it.
“That was an incredible atmosphere, the top in college basketball, in my opinion, and to see them that excited to beat us is a testament to all we’ve accomplished in this incredible historic season,” said UM senior center Julian Gamble, a native of Durham who knows about the Duke mystique better than anyone on the UM team. “Them respecting us as much as we respect them says a lot and means a lot. That was a great game between two great teams playing at the highest level.”
“This was a great ACC game,” Krzyzewski said. “Both teams were spectacular and then we were all privileged to see one of the performances of the ages, I think, by Ryan Kelly. Probably as good a performance as any player has had, a Duke player has had, at Cameron. Especially based on the fact he hasn’t played for two months.”
“I don’t know how that happened. But it did, we won and God bless America.”