It wasn't easy for the Hurricanes, as Clemson came ready to play and full of energy in the opening minutes and Miami head coach Frank Haith deviated from his bench to give a senior a much-needed start. Because he didn't start guard Lee Butler on Senior Day, Butler started against the Tigers in place of normal point guard Anthony Harris. Butler played five minutes of action and didn't record a stat.
"We wanted to get him in the book," Haith said following the game.
Both teams struggled shooting the ball in the opening half, and exchanged leads throughout the first fifteen minutes before Clemson gained control. Vern Hamilton and K.C. Rivers drilled 3-pointers, and after Akin Akinbala knocked down a mid-range jumper, the Tigers led 27-21 with six minutes remaining. Hamilton hit another 3-pointer in the final minutes of the half and with six seconds left Akinbala's two-handed dunk gave Clemson a 34-26 halftime lead.
Clemson hit just 11-of-33 shots in the first half, but connected on 6-of-13 3-pointers and 6-of-7 free throws, impressive numbers for a team that usually struggles shooting the basketball.
The Hurricanes knocked down 10-of-24 from the field and 4-of-9 from beyond the arc, but only had two points from the free throw line. Defensively, Miami played well in the opening half, but the defense in the final twenty minutes proved to be the difference.
It didn't start that way, as Clemson came out firing and led 39-26 just a minute into the second half on five quick points from Hammonds. It wasn't looking good for Miami, who lost in the opening round of the tournament last year, after the Tigers took another double-digit lead, 12 points, with 12 minutes remaining on a deep 3-pointer by Julius Powell.
After Powell's jumper Miami, and in particular Diaz and freshman Raymond Hicks, took over the game. The Hurricanes outscored Clemson 30-15 the final 12 minutes, with Diaz scoring nine of his game-high 22 points and Hicks adding a surprising eight to lead the way. Miami chipped away and tightened up on defense, and midway through the half Hicks scored eight straight points to cut Clemson's lead to 56-54. Minutes later Diaz knocked down a huge 3-pointer to pull Miami within one, 60-59 with two minutes remaining.
After Clemson missed three shots on its next possession, Diaz drove the baseline and found Denis Clemente opened in the corner and the freshman hit the 3-pointer to give Miami a 62-60 lead with 51 seconds left. It was Miami's first lead since early in the first half when the Hurricanes led 9-6, and Clemson couldn't hit the shots down the stretch to regain the lead. Vernon Hamilton had a decent look at a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but his shot bounced off the rim, and Miami escaped with a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
The Hurricanes shot 48% in the second half, and Clemson hit just 9-of-35 attempts for a freezing 25.7% from the field. Clemson outrebounded Miami by 10 and knocked down 10 3-pointers, but couldn't overcome the 29.4% shooting.
Joining Diaz in double figures was Robert Hite and Clemente. Hite tallied 15 and a team-high 12 rebounds, while Clemente chipped in ten points off the bench. Leading Clemson was Hamilton and Akinbala. The junior point guard registered 17 points, and Akinbala added 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Miami's superb quickness proved to be the difference, as the Hurricanes totaled 19 points off turnovers and outscored Clemson 27-5 in transition.
Miami (16-14) must now rest the remainder of the day and prepare for a noon game against No. 1 seed Duke (27-3). The two teams squared off just once this season and the Blue Devils came out victorious, defeating the Hurricanes 92-71 in a late-season contest in Durham.
A concern has to be the physical health of Diaz. The junior guard played 37 minutes despite being diagnosed with the flu and his health for tomorrow remains a question mark.