It was Senior Day at the Watsco Center on Saturday, but it was a freshman, Bruce Brown, who grabbed the spotlight from start to finish, scoring 25 points to lead the University of Miami to a 55-50 upset of 10th-ranked Duke in front of a sold-out crowd and a national TV audience.
Brown scored the first seven points of the game and slammed in the exclamation point, a dunk at the tail end of a long inbounds pass from Anthony Lawrence with five seconds left that stretched UM’s lead from three points to an almost-insurmountable five. Brown shot 11 for 18 with four assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
“He’s had a great year, was terrific [Saturday],” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Brown. “Overall, when you’re defending them, somebody will probably score. He scored half their points almost. He’s an outstanding player. Our defense was not bad; he made tough plays.”
Brown, who scored 30 points in an upset of then-No. 9 North Carolina in late January and also recorded the second triple-double in school history, shrugged off Saturday’s performance as just another day at the office.
“I just went out and played hard, read their defenses, and the court opened up for me,” he said. “I’ve been playing in big-time games my whole life, AAU, high school, so I’m used to it.”
UM has won five of eight games against Duke since Jim Larrañaga took over the program. They were 2-17 against the Blue Devils previously. On Saturday, UM held Duke 32 points below its season scoring average and to 21 first-half points (tying a season low). Miami had a 40-20 scoring edge in the paint.
“We know with our defense we can play with anybody,” said UM senior Davon Reed, who struggled with his shot — 3 for 11 — but had a game-high 10 rebounds. “To get two huge wins back-to-back against ranked teams is an amazing feeling. I’m just thankful Bruce came in and had a lifetime game.”
Duke was without guard Grayson Allen (ankle), who averages 15 points per game, and an ailing Amile Jefferson had just four points in 21 minutes. Luke Kennard and Frank Jackson scored 16 points each.
Miami raised its record to 20-8 with two road games to go, and Duke fell to 22-7. The teams are tied with 10-6 records in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Five days before knocking off Duke, the Hurricanes shocked 18th-ranked Virginia on the road. The back-to-back wins over ranked teams, coupled with a 6-1 record in their past seven games (the only loss coming by five to then-fourth-ranked Louisville) will likely be enough to secure an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
“Only 68 teams are 0-0 out of 351 [at the start of the NCAA Tournament] and we’re going to be one of them, Miami will be one of them, and there will be quite a few of them from this conference,” Krzyzewski said. “I think this game is pretty much indicative of all the games in our conference. There’s just a couple plays, a bigger performance like by Brown, something that separates you just a little bit. All the teams are so damned competitive.”
The Watsco Center was officially sold out for every game this season, but depending on the opponent thousands of seats were often empty. That was not the case on Saturday.
It was a true packed house, with a crowd of 7,972 that included former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Heat forward Chris Bosh, former Heat star Ray Allen and retired Yankees star and Miami native Alex Rodriguez. The students provided energy at key moments, and when the final whistle blew they stormed the court to celebrate with the team. Larrañaga delighted in the scene.
“We are not the perennial powerhouse like Duke or [North] Carolina,” he said. “We don’t have the fan base yet. The operative word is yet. Our students have shown up for all the big games. Now we need them to show up for all the games. If we truly want to compete for a national championship, the students need to know, hey, [they] can lift us on their shoulders and take us to [the] promised land.”
UM point guard Ja’Quan Newton returned to action after serving a three-game suspension but did not start. He did, however, score the final basket of the first half to push UM ahead 22-21 at the break. Newton also scored the go-ahead bucket to make it 41-39 after Duke had gone on a 12-2 run.
The Hurricanes’ remaining games are at Virginia Tech on Monday and at No. 19 Florida State on March 4.
“We still have two huge games ahead of us,” Larrañaga said. “Those two teams are 33-1 at home. FSU is undefeated at home. As satisfying as this win was, our work is still ahead of us.”