Miami's comeback gives fans a classic
FEB 02, 2013 8:47p ET
The Hurricanes' 79-78 triumph had all of the elements of a great game: The ACC's top team and an unbeaten veteran group visiting a highly touted underdog, perhaps only because the No. 19 Wolfpack was without its best player ( Lorenzo Brown) and were forced to play a seldom-used freshman (Tyler Lewis) in his place.
But the young Lewis stepped up and put forth a memorable performance so impressive he may have been the Wolfpack's best player on this day.
The game had meaningful runs that were immediately responded to by the opposition. Most notable were a 16-2 Miami burst that saw the Hurricanes overcome a 60-52 deficit to lead 68-62 with 7:07 left to play followed by a 12-1 Wolfpack spurt to give them a 74-69 lead with 3:10 remaining.
From there, the grizzled vets from South Beach slowly chipped away. And following Lewis' missed jumper with 16 seconds left was Larkin's runner going across the lane. Much like in NC State's one-point loss at Maryland a few weeks ago, an opposing big man (Johnson) was perfectly positioned to put in the rebound in one quick motion.
Either team could have won, and quite frankly, this was a rare case in which both squads deserved to win. But the older, wiser club prevailed.
"Experience is a word we hear a lot — a lot of people comment on our age. But it's been very valuable for us," Miami forward Julian Gamble said. "Me being a sixth-year senior and being in the ACC for as long as I have and going through the things I've gone through, and with D. Scott being here for four years and having the amount of experience, he has really helped us.
"It helped us stay poised and helped us stay calm."
The ebb and flow of the game included a series of adjustments made by both coaching staffs. Initially, Miami's maturity, which includes four senior starters and a senior as the first man off the bench, knocked State back a bit. But once Lewis entered the game and gained confidence after making a few plays, the rest of the Pack caught his contagious vibe and picked up their play.
Junior forward C.J. Leslie, who didn't start for the second game in a row because of a coach's decision, raised his play en route to an 18-point, 12-rebound performance. It also sparked rookie Rodney Purvis (13 points), who was initially charged with the starting responsibility of replacing Brown, but Wolfpack (16-6, 5-4 ACC) head coach Mark Gottfried finally realized he wasn't the answer and stuck with Lewis, thus moving Purvis back to his two-guard spot.
That was the key decision allowing State to develop a flow that kept it in position to win. Gottfried, who had played Lewis just 23 minutes in NC State's first seven ACC games, accepted the fact that Lewis (16 points, 5 assists in 36 minutes) was his next best bet at the point. So he stuck with the 5-foot-10 newbie.
"The way he distributed the basketball, making foul shots and coming off ball screens," Gottfried said, "that's why we put the ball in his hands late in the game. I thought he made a lot of great decisions throughout the day. He did a nice job defensively and I'm very proud of him."
Lewis' ability to penetrate into the lane gave the Hurricanes problems, forcing coach Jim Larranaga to try some different players on him. He also made things easier for his teammates because the Hurricanes were so cognizant of where Lewis was and where he was moving they often lost track of their own men they were guarding.
While NC State was playing inspiring hoops in perhaps its most focused game of the season, No. 14 Miami (17-3, 8-0) was flexing its old-man muscles. And once the 'Canes matched NCSU's intensity and adjusted to Lewis, they had the upper hand.
The teams traded strategic and emotional highs and lows, giving this a little bit of a prize-fight feeling. The atmosphere was so frenzied and a factor that Larranaga said he could barely communicate with his team during timeouts.
The crowd also gave the home team a lift. They were a true sixth man, and have been for most of this season. That's a throw-back of sorts, back to a day NC State always had huge edges at home because of its crowds.
On Saturday, it was the final layer that gave this clash every element of a classic ACC game that should be remembered for some time.
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