CORAL GABLES (AP) — Following the Miami Hurricanes’ latest down-to-the-wire victory, Shane Larkin was asked where the win ranked this year.
“Umm …” he said, mulling over the question before Coach Jim Larranaga interrupted.
“Tied for first,” Larranaga said. “With all the games.”
The Hurricanes’ unprecedented season to savor took another thrilling twist Tuesday. Reggie Johnson made a tie-breaking layup with 5.7 seconds left, and the No. 2-ranked Hurricanes overcame a ragged offensive performance for the second game in a row to beat Virginia 54-50 and remain unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Durand Scott added two clinching free throws with four seconds to go for the Hurricanes, who earned their 14th consecutive victory. The win came two nights after they rallied late to beat Clemson 45-43.
The Hurricanes (22-3, 13-0 ACC) improved to 12-0 at home. They hold a 3 1/2-game edge over second-place Duke in the ACC as they chase their first league basketball championship.
“Nothing happening now is a coincidence,” Johnson said. “We really worked for this. I think we’re just getting what we deserve.”
Virginia (18-8, 8-5) fell to 0-6 in Miami. The Cavaliers led only once, at 29-28, but Evan Nolte tied the game at 50 by sinking a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left.
After a timeout, Larkin dribbled past two screens, faked a pass and then hit an open Johnson under the basket, and the senior center made a reverse layup. Paul Jesperson’s inbounds pass was intercepted by Scott, who was fouled and hit both free throws.
Johnson’s last-second tip-in 10 days earlier beat North Carolina State.
“Those game-winning shots, you never forget those the rest of your life,” Larranaga said. “He’ll be telling his friends when he’s my age, `I remember when I played against Virginia and scored the game-winning basket.’ And they’ll all think he’s exaggerating.”
Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said Johnson’s basket was too easy.
“We left the rim unprotected,” Bennett said. “For playing such a sound game defensively, it does sting to give them one at the rim. You want them to at least earn it. Make them hit a contested shot, and obviously that was an uncontested shot.”
Defense kept the Hurricanes in front on a night when went 1 for 7 from 3-point range and struggled against a Virginia defense ranked fourth in the nation. The Hurricanes smothered Virginia with their aggressive man-to-man.
“They did a good job of trying to make everything difficult,” Virginia’s Joe Harris said. “It seemed like they tried to overplay everything.”
Harris, one of the nation’s top outside shooters, had 16 points but only one 3-pointer. He extended his streak of treys to 16 consecutive games by sinking one in the final minute.
Miami held the Cavaliers to 39-percent shooting and blocked seven shots. Julian Gamble had four blocks, including three on one possession.
“I really pride myself in protecting the rim,” Gamble said. “I joke with my teammates about having block parties during these games.”
The Hurricanes held a league opponent to 50 points or less for the sixth time. They’re 4-0 in ACC play in games decided by four points or less.
Miami climbed on Monday to No. 2 in the rankings, best in the program’s history. For two weeks the Hurricanes have been the only unbeaten team in league play among the major conferences.
Their ACC start is the best since Duke went 16-0 and won the conference in 1999.
“They’re doing a great job,” Bennett said. “They’ve earned their victories, and they’re a hard team to play against. You’ve got to be very sound to beat them. We almost were – just a few possessions away.”
Larkin had 11 points, including four in the final 42 seconds, to go with six assists and only one turnover. Rion Brown added 10 points off the bench in 25 minutes. Gamble had eight points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes.
The Hurricanes started fast on offense, working the ball inside and shooting 5 for 5 in the first 3:21. But points were tough to come by after that.
Instead it was Miami’s defense that had a sellout crowd roaring, especially when Gamble blocked three consecutive shots by Akil Mitchell.
The Cavaliers trailed by seven points early and took their only lead seven minutes into the second half. Brown answered by making three consecutive free throws after being fouled on a long attempt, and then sank a 3-point shot to put the Hurricanes ahead 36-29. That matched their largest lead.
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