The Canes went into Blacksburg with their season on the line and were able to get a quality ACC win. Miami then visited Georgia Tech and were able to squeak out a 64-63 victory. This team as they did last year in the ACC tournament were able to respond from bad losses and play quality basketball. Miami was now 4-6 in conference play and headed back home for a meeting with the 4th ranked Duke Blue Devils. The sentiment around this program was simply a hope that they could compete with the 22-2 Blue Devils.
"We always feel like we can win," said Coach Haith. "Every time we play we know if we execute and play smart that there is no team we can not beat."
Miami played an excellent first half vs. Duke and went into a halftime with a 41 to 36 lead. The Canes then stunned observers as they went on an 18 to 3 to jump out to a 59-39 point lead vs. Duke and they seemed on their way to a signature win. There was a timeout on the floor as the Bank United Center was as loud as it had ever been and people watching the game simply could not believe how Miami was dominating Duke. Coach K implemented a full court press during the time out and then Duke stormed back and closed the deficit to 4 with a minute and 29 seconds left. Duke had the ball down 90 to 86 and appeared on their way to crushing the hopes of Canes players and fans.
Greg Paulus brought the ball up the court and launched a 3 pointer that had everybody in the Bank United Center holding their breath. The shot rimmed out and then Miami was able to make their free throws the rest of the way and sneaked out with a 96 to 95 win as DeMarcus Nelson hit a 3 as time expired. The Canes had showed the rest of the nation that they were for real.
"It was a great win," said Coach Haith. "What a win. It was a great College Basketball game. This is a great win for our program."
The story of the night was Miami power forward Dwayne Collins. The sophomore had 26 points and 7 rebounds on Wednesday night. He dominated the paint the entire night and had the crowd on their feet with power dunks and some amazing finishes on lay-ups.
"The first game vs. Duke I was in foul trouble the whole game," said Collins. "I came out today and just played hard. I did a good job of finishing. It is funny because I practice some of the shots that I took today before practice that way the coaches can not see me trying those reverse hook lay-ups, but they worked today."
The Canes were also led by their star player and shooting guard Jack McClinton. The junior had 22 points and 4 assists. McClinton is regarded by fellow ACC coaches as one of their better players in the conference and he continues to show why they do with every game. McClinton was everywhere tonight for Miami. He was diving for loose balls, breaking the press, and of course making shots.
"I had a feeling something special was going to happen today," said McClinton. "I knew something good was going to happen for the Canes today. We came out and played hard and got the result we wanted."
Miami now sits at 18-7 with a 5-6 record in the conference, but those numbers do not tell the story. After this win is there is a feeling around this program that has been missing since Leonard Hamilton's NCAA tournament teams. There is a legitimate belief that the Canes are for real and a team that can make noise in March. Miami answered critics tonight that said they had not played good competition and their record was an indication of their schedule. The Canes beat a top 5 team for only the third time in the program's history and proved that they could compete with the nation's elite.
"This was a good win for a program," said Haith. "I am not going to call it a signature win that is for the guys at ESPN to talk about. We play Maryland on Saturday and we just have to keep this going."
Miami has 5 conference games remaining and if they can finish their season 3 and 2 they would most likely be an NCAA tournament team. The Canes made their statement tonight, but now it is time to finish their season as a legitimate power program would do. Miami has the talent to be a Sweet 16 team. The challenge for Coach Haith's team is to finish better than 3 and 2 and an early exit in the ACC tournament. This team will hopefully strive for more than being part of March Madness. Miami made their road to the NCAA tournament much easier tonight, but now it is time to prove they can be more than just a participant in March.
"Miami is an excellent team," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "Coach Haith has done a great job. They are having a very good season."