Linda Robertson: Madness arrives for Miami Hurricanes men

A blimp, a line of tents and lawn chairs, ticket scalpers, volcanic arena, crowd noise so loud it drowned out Dick Vitale?

What was happening in Coral Gables? What was all the commotion Wednesday night on the University of Miami campus?

It was the hubbub of history. It was the delirium of college basketball. It was a whiff of March Madness in January.

It was Miami deconstructing Duke by the preposterous score of 90-63 for a milestone first victory over a No. 1-ranked team by the UM men’s program.

As time ran out, UM fans chanted “Over-rated!” and rushed from the stands to become a pulsing orange horde on the court. They lifted players onto their shoulders as the pep band blared. They were eyewitnesses to something never seen in a place long considered a college hoops wasteland.

But UM’s so-far super season is changing perceptions, and the bombshell win over Duke will put the boisterous BankUnited Center on the map.

No. 25 Miami’s upset of Duke was more than a surprise because it was so bracing, so thorough. The 27-point margin made it the third most lopsided win over a No. 1 team in the sport’s record books and the worst since 1968. This went way beyond rout to stupefication. The Hurricanes drained the blue blood from the tradition-rich Blue Devils.

When asked if he could take any positives from the game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “I can’t think of anything. Is the weather good?”

He spared a smile then, but judging by his expression during the game, you would not want to be a Duke basketball player on Thursday or Friday. This one is going to sting. Not because Duke had an off night, which happens to the best of teams, shooting a lousy 29.7 percent, but because Duke allowed Miami to shoot 56.9 percent and get to the basket with ease.

In one devastating 20-second sequence, Kenny Kadji hit a jump shot, hassled Duke’s Mason Plumlee into a turnover, which Shane Larkin converted into a steal and then followed up his missed three-pointer with a layup for a 49-19 lead.

“They killed us,” Krzyzewski said. “When our three veterans shoot 6 for 37 — that’s something I have never seen.”

No, not even Shane Battier could have rescued Duke, even if he had left the Heat-Toronto game downtown and put on his old uniform.

“This is a big-time win, but we’re still hungry,” said UM center Reggie Johnson, who made a last-minute return to the roster for the first time since a Dec. 18 injury and energized his teammates. “Some people still don’t believe, but we believe in ourselves.”

UM took full advantage of its exposure as a newly-minted Top 25 member during its night on the national ESPN stage and proved the votes were deserved, and that more should be forthcoming.

The Canes provided a pleasant tonic after a day of frustrating news from the NCAA, which announced its probe of UM had been compromised by the inappropriate actions of one of its investigators, further delaying the two-year process that has left UM football and men’s basketball playing a waiting game.

But the basketball team, in its second season under Larranaga, showed no ill effects, improving to 8-0 at home, 5-0 in the ACC and 14-3 overall.

One of those losses was to Florida Gulf Coast, but Nov. 13 seems a part of the distant past.

The victory over Duke will prompt questions that get repeated every time the Hurricanes pull off a major upset: Has the UM program arrived? Can it be a consistent occupant of the NCAA Tournament bracket? Will 8,000 fans continue to fill the arena?

For those who have followed the program since its 1985 rebirth, for the loyal founders who have attended games where they could count the number of spectators and hear the sound of sneaker squeaks echoing off empty seats, the win was a long time coming.

“To have the students camp out overnight — it’s the first time we’ve been able to create this kind of buzz,” said Um coach Jim Larranaga, referring to Larranagaville, or, since this is Miami, Ciudad Larranaga. He delivered 300 doughnuts to those waiting in line six hours before tipoff.

Perhaps Duke arrived overconfident, scoffing at the ingénue enthusiasm of UM students when Duke players are accustomed to the mayhem of their Cameron Crazies every home game.

But they were quickly humbled after a 25-1 run and trailed 42-19 at the half. Krzyzewski refused to call timeout. He showed no mercy for his confounded players. UM’s defense forced 16 turnovers, made eight blocks and left Duke flailing from three-point range.

“This school isn’t known as a basketball school,” Larranaga said.

That changed on a momentous Wednesday night.

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