Cane Collapse

How Florida's only team in the NCAAs almost did it

The crowd, which had been mostly silent for Miami buckets and cheering every score by Saint Mary's, actually groaned with disappointment when McClinton threw an errant behind-the-back pass out of bounds.

Once the game ended, a CBS crew interviewed McClinton at midcourt. The crowd surprisingly booed with a lusty hatred. But it wasn't aimed at Mac. The Texas Longhorns, long rivals to Arkansas, were taking the court for warmups.

As expected, the number two seed Longhorns smeared the sacrificial Austin Peay Governors to set up a clash with Miami for a trip to the Sweet 16.

McClinton unleashed the Miami beast.
McClinton unleashed the Miami beast.

Arkansas fans just plain ol' don't like Texas. And plenty of other people just don't like favorites. So although Texas fans traveled well, they were outnumbered.

Early on, the Longhorns made seven of their first 11 three-point attempts and appeared to be turning the game into a laugher. They led 29 to 15 midway through the first half when McClinton nonchalantly buried his first three-pointer. Sixty-eight seconds later, he nailed another, longer shot. On defense, he mostly was stuck guarding Texas' all-everything guards — A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin — and crashing against center/lug Connor Atchley as he set pick after pick.

Being down 11 at the half didn't faze Hurricanes fans. "Very few of the teams we beat this year we led at halftime," said David Leshner of Miami Beach.

He stood in the concourse chatting with McClinton's father, Jack McClinton Jr., who waxed Yogi Berra-esque: "There's two halves to the game. We just have to win the second half."

The elder McClinton acknowledged his son often feeds his offense with what happens on defense. Against Saint Mary's, when he was grinding out points, that was an advantage. Too often against Texas, it looked more like impatience. After the Longhorns hit a couple of threes in the second half, McClinton grabbed a rebound and became a one-man fast break. But he missed a quick, contested three.

"Man," said a fan in the upper deck, "that guy's a black hole. If the ball goes in, it never comes out."

Indeed McClinton was cold, cold, cold. Then he scored his first points of the second half with five minutes remaining. It was astounding. He ran an obstacle course of screens, caught a pass, found himself triple-teamed, and still nailed a basket, cutting the lead to a dozen. Two minutes later, he hit a trey from the corner off an inbounds pass, and the lead was 10.

With 2:33 to go, the Miami star sank a pull-up three with two hands in his face. Then four free throws made the lead six with 97 seconds to play. The last of those he shot with the arena in utter bedlam. The Canes-lovin' fans were making some noise.

You know what happened next. At 47 seconds, the refs called a reach-in foul on McClinton that should never have happened. The game was as good as over. The Hurricanes fought back to as close as two points down with two seconds left, but succumbed 75-72. McClinton was bummed at the postgame news conference. Asked why he took so long to assert himself, he replied, "I don't know, man. It's just, I don't know.''

The nosebleed section put the loss into perspective. During that final, too-late run, a couple of fans peered down at the Miami pep section.

"Look at their cheerleaders," a young woman said, motioning to their washboard stomachs.

"They're jacked," her male companion replied. Then he marveled, "A whole other breed down there."

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