The Hurricanes had been flirting with disaster the past few games; it finally caught up to them vs. Wake.
By CHRIS TOMASSON FS Florida
Sure, the headlines will scream “upset,’’ but one could see this loss coming.
The Miami Hurricanes should have fallen last Sunday at Clemson. They could have lost at home last Tuesday against Virginia.
So what did they learn from those escapes against lesser foes? Apparently, not much.
The second-ranked Hurricanes were walloped 80-65 Saturday at Wake Forest.
“You could just see it (Saturday),’’ said Miami point guard Shane Larkin. “I had a bad feeling coming into warm-ups with everybody going slow. I was trying to get people to go fast, and I wasn't even going full speed like I should have. Overall, we weren't prepared before the game and they came out and punched us in the mouth."
Coaches of teams on hot streaks sometimes believe a loss before the NCAA tournament can prove helpful. It soon will be seen if Saturday's setback serves as a wake-up call for a team that hadn’t lost since Christmas, winning 14 straight.
Recent ugly wins didn’t serve as wake-up calls. The Hurricanes (22-4, 13-1 ACC) needed to come back from a late four-point deficit to beat a mediocre Clemson outfit 45-43. They needed a bucket with 5.7 seconds left to break a 50-50 tie in a 54-50 home win over Virginia.
The Hurricanes had some other recent ACC road escapes, winning 60-59 at Boston College and 79-78 at North Carolina State and watching a possible game-tying 3-pointer with 25 seconds left rim out in a 74-68 victory at Florida State. They ran out of luck Saturday.
Then again, luck didn’t really come into it. The Hurricanes, who got a team-high 17 points from guard Durand Scott, were dominated most of the afternoon, falling behind by 19 points late in the first half. They did close to within 50-45 with 12 minutes left before Wake Forest put the game away with a 12-0 spurt.
“We had mental lapses on the defensive and offensive end,’’ said big man Reggie Johnson, a Winston-Salem, NC, native who had a meager four points and three rebounds, well below his averages of 9.4 and 8.3.
The Demon Deacons (12-14, 5-9) actually aren’t bad at home, having raised their conference record at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to 5-2 compared to 0-7 on the road. But if Miami really is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, it can't suffer these kinds of losses.
The Hurricanes’ hopes for that No. 1 seed might be slipping away. They better win next Saturday at No. 6 Duke or at least win the ACC Tournament for it to happen.
Some have wondered if the Hurricanes, who were unranked to start the season and don’t have a lottery pick on the roster, really are worthy of such a lofty ranking. After Saturday’s debacle, it remains to be seen.
"You want to go undefeated, you want to win every game, but you're still in first place," said Larkin, who had 13 points and three assists. "That's in the past and we're just going to let it stay in the past.’’
At least it would take a total collapse for Miami not to win its first regular-season ACC title. To not be outright champions, the Hurricanes would have to fall at Duke and lose at least one other game. Their three other remaining games are all at home and against lightweights Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Clemson.
The Hurricanes raised expectations considerably with their amazing run. Now it will be seen if Saturday provided enough of a wake-call to make reaching some of those expectations realistic.