GREENSBORO — Any late-season sluggishness for Miami was soundly refuted Saturday in the ACC Tournament semifinal at Greensboro Coliseum.
Durand Scott scored a career-high 32 points to lead Miami to an 81-71 victory as the Hurricanes advanced to their first ACC championship game. The ’Canes can bolster their argument for a No. 1 seed for next week’s NCAA Tournament if they win their first conference championship against North Carolina today.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was sold on the league’s top seed.
“Durand Scott was unbelievable today,” Gottfried said. “He and Shane Larkin together were great. Miami played like a No. 1 seed.”
Miami lost to Georgia Tech in the final week of the regular season and got all it could handle from Boston College in Friday’s quarterfinal but put N.C. State, the preseason favorite to win the league, away early and never trailed.
“This is exactly the type of game we needed to play,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “I told our guys this is the time we need to play great at both ends of the floor. We played a great first half and continued to do that in the second half.”
Scott left the Wolfpack (24-10) shaking their heads and catching their breath by using an explosive first step to drive to the basket for easy looks. Scott also canned a personal-best five 3-pointers and had four assists with two steals. All-ACC point guard Larkin dropped 23 points in a banner day for the Miami backcourt.
“They’re both so competitive,” Larranaga said. “They did everything they had to do to win the game. That’s really what it’s all about, the tremendous effort they put into helping their team.”
The 6-foot-5 senior guard scored 21 points against Duke in the 2010 ACC quarterfinal as a freshman and showed flashes of brilliance again.
Miami’s Reggie Johnson tipped in a rebound with one second left to beat State last month but Miami didn’t win this game on any one shot or possession. It rode the backs of Scott and Larkin and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. There was 18 second-chance points for the ‘Canes.
State missed out on a chance to win the tournament for the first time since 1987 after laboring through the first 10 minutes, scoring only five points. The Pack had seven empty possessions, five missed shots and two turnovers, to start the game and were behind 16-5 at the second media timeout.
“It was an uphill climb in the first half,” Gottfried said. “We couldn’t seem to take advantage of an opportunity. Somehow, we would not execute.”
State cut its deficit to 41-29 at halftime and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt. Scott Wood’s 3-pointer closed it to 50-44. A trey from Scott and a basket from Larkin pushed the lead back out to 10 and Miami held off State the rest of the way.
After encouraging games in the first two days of the tournament, State point guard Lorenzo Brown misfired on all six field goal attempts. C.J. Leslie added 14 points and T.J. Warren had 13.
Wood hit six 3-pointers to give him 16 treys for the tournament. He hit seven 3’s against Virginia Friday but was daunted Saturday by having to guard a torrid Scott.
“At the start I didn’t do a good enough job of pressuring him,” Wood said. “We let him get into his comfort zone and after a couple of shots go down, they’re tough to guard.”
The Wolfpack will return to Raleigh and await their placement in the NCAA Tournament, albeit with less drama then last year when they waited until the final pairing to confirm their inclusion.
“I think we have great basketball in front of us,” Gottfried said. “Today, the first half was just not us. We did some good things here, just not enough.”