RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Reggie Johnson saw the ball go up, bounce off the backboard and then the rim before heading his way. The big man muscled his way up to tip in a shot that extended No. 14 Miami’s surprise run through the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Johnson’s left-handed tip with 0.8 seconds left helped the Hurricanes beat No. 19 North Carolina State 79-78 on Saturday, capping a back-and-forth second half with a thrilling finish that kept the Hurricanes unbeaten in the league.
Johnson finished with 15 points for the Hurricanes (17-3, 8-0) in his best performance since returning from a broken left thumb four games ago. Durand Scott led Miami with 18 points and Julian Gamble added 16 to help the Hurricanes win their ninth straight game, a run that included a blowout of then-No. 1 Duke last week.
The Hurricanes, picked to finish fifth in the ACC in preseason, were only the ninth team to start 7-0 in ACC play since the 1996-97 season. Now they’re off to the best league start since Duke went 10-0 five years ago, according to STATS LLC.
“No pressure on us,” Gamble said. “We’re having as much fun as possible. We know teams are going to gun at us and play their absolute best every night.”
After a timeout with 10.9 seconds remaining to set up a final play, Shane Larkin missed a shot on the right side. But Johnson tipped the ball up and in over Richard Howell to stun a home crowd that had been as loud as it was for rivalry wins against Duke and North Carolina in the past month.
N.C. State (16-6, 5-4) nearly topped Johnson’s tip when freshman Rodney Purvis launched a heave from well beyond halfcourt at the horn, a shot that hit the rim and rattled out to end it.
“I got inside and went up with the left hand and tipped it in,” Johnson said. “I had the position. But when I saw their shot go in and out, my heart was in my throat.”
C.J. Leslie had 18 points and 12 rebounds despite coming off the bench for an undisclosed disciplinary reason for the Wolfpack, who played without starting point guard Lorenzo Brown due to an ankle injury. Purvis and fellow freshman Tyler Lewis played well in Brown’s place but the Wolfpack ultimately watched this one slip away in painfully familiar fashion.
N.C. State, the preseason ACC favorite, lost at Maryland 51-50 on a last-second putback on Jan. 16. Its four league losses have come by a combined seven points.
“I think we’re getting better all the time,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “The frustrating thing is you’ve got four league losses to show for it.”
Lewis, who hadn’t scored more than six in a game all season, finished with 16 points and five assists in 36 minutes. But he missed a contested jumper with about 15 seconds left to set up Miami’s winning score.
“I wasn’t too nervous because I’ve been playing this game for a long time,” Lewis said. “Can’t ever be nervous when you’re out on the court, so just tried to go out and play my game.”
The game lived up to its status as a matchup of ranked league teams, with Miami leading by nine in the first half and N.C. State leading by 10 midway through the second. Behind Johnson and Gamble inside, Miami scored 28 points in the paint after halftime and 50 points for the game to gain a needed edge.
The 6-foot-10, 292-pound Johnson — a home-state native of Winston-Salem — had scored just 11 points in three games since his return, but went 6 for 10 from the field with eight rebounds.
“Once we threw it inside and Reggie got it going, (the players) knew we should keep going to him,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said.
That helped offset a shaky outside shooting day, with Miami missing 18 of 21 3-point tries yet still finishing at 49 percent for the afternoon.
Miami ran off a 16-2 run — much of the damage coming from Johnson and Gamble inside — while holding the Wolfpack to one field goal over a 5-minute span to take a 68-62 lead. The Wolfpack fought back to tie it then take a 74-69 lead on a 3-pointer from Scott Wood with 3:10 left, only to see Miami chip away at the lead until getting Johnson’s winner.
It was also Miami’s first win in five tries at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes were the only league team that had never won here.
N.C. State lost despite shooting nearly 54 percent for the game.
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