CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The Miami Hurricanes’ finale in the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball race will determine whether their late-season losses are remembered as a mere stumble or an epic collapse.
That sounds like a lot of pressure.
“We just want to try to keep it as another game,” senior Kenny Kadji said Thursday.
“It’s going to be an emotionally tense moment,” senior Julian Gamble conceded.
“Wait a minute,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “I just think it’s college basketball.”
Larranaga wants to avoid making too much of the No. 6-ranked Hurricanes’ recent slump. After winning their first 13 league games, they’ve lost three of the past four, including consecutive defeats when they had a chance to clinch the ACC title outright.
They still have one more shot when they play host to Clemson on Saturday afternoon. And they could back into the outright title if second-place Duke loses Saturday night at North Carolina.
Larranaga said the Hurricanes should be thrilled with their situation.
After all, he said, they’re already assured of at least a title share, and they’ve clinched the No. 1 seeding in the ACC tournament.
“We have one game remaining,” he said. “If someone asked you before the conference race began, would you like to be a game up on Duke and two games up on North Carolina and sitting in first place with a home game to close out the regular season, I think everybody would say yes, that would be a fantastic year.”
But the year’s not quite as fantastic lately. For two games in a row, ACC champion T-shirts for the players have remained boxed.
On Wednesday, Miami (23-6, 14-3) squandered a 13-point lead in the second half and lost to Georgia Tech 71-69 on a tip-in at the buzzer.
“It’s bitter,” senior Trey McKinney Jones said, “but we have to have a short memory.”
Clemson (13-16, 5-12) gave Miami a scare but lost 45-43 on Feb. 17. The Hurricanes won with defense that night, and a lot of other nights. But in their recent losses they’ve allowed 80, 79 and 71 points, with all three opponents shooting at least 52 percent.
“Definitely it’s about our defense,” McKinney Jones said. “Early in the ACC, we locked down defensively. That was our forte. We have to get back to doing that.