That was University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga's message to his team before Saturday's showdown with No. 3 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. And while the Canes couldn't quite complete the regular season sweep, falling to the Blue Devils 76-79, Miami was part of what may have been the college basketball game of the year.
It had everything you could ask for. And more.
High Stakes? No. 5 playing No. 3 for a chance to win the ACC outright for the first time in school history. Check.
A thrilling finish? Duke led by 10 with less than two minutes to go in the contest and Miami scratched and clawed its way back with a chance to send the game into overtime on the final possession (and coming darn close too with Rion Brown's 3-point attempt from the corner hitting the rim as time expired). Check.
A transcending individual performance? Duke's Ryan Kelly, who had been out with a foot injury since Jan. 8, scored a career-high 36 points making seven of his nine 3-point attempts. Check.
At least one SportsCenter Top 10 moment? Miami's Kenny Kadji throwing down a vicious dunk, soaring over Kelly, provoking an "Ohhhhhmygoddd" from yours truly and proving once again that he is a legitimate NBA prospect. Check.
Unfortunately for Miami, the one thing that was missing was a winning score. Even though the Canes led by two at halftime, the Blue Devils picked up the pace in the second half, shooting 60% from beyond the arc and 56.5% from the field. It didn't help that Ryan Kelly played the game of his life and was curiously left open too many times for wide-open 3-pointers.
Duke's Mason Plumlee and Quinn Cook pitched in 12 and 15 points, respectively. Meanwhile, the leading scorer for the Canes was point guard Shane Larkin with 25 followed by Kadji with 17 and Durand Scott and Trey McKinney Jones with 12 each. Reggie Johnson got the start over Julian Gamble, but struggled mightily all game, picking up two quick fouls at the beginning of the second half and fumbling away multiple passes.
In the end it was a valiant effort by the Canes, but poor 3-point shooting (28.6% from beyond the arc) and defensive lapses were too much to overcome. The good news is that with Georgia Tech and Clemson traveling to Coral Gables on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively, Miami can still win the ACC. And so the quest to be the best continues.
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