CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The Miami Hurricanes’ dream season has turned nightmarish.
That’s not to say the Canes can’t recapture the magic they had before losing three of their last four games in time to make this a truly special season.
But March is when teams want to be playing their best, and the Hurricanes are not.
Amid an atmosphere ready to celebrate the program’s first outright basketball title, Miami suffered a stunning 71-69 loss to Georgia Tech on a tip-in at the buzzer on Wednesday night.
With a victory against Clemson at home on Saturday, the Hurricanes (23-6, 14-3) still will win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title. The only previous such achievement for the program was sharing the Big East crown with Syracuse in 2000.
That’s the positive news.
Against Georgia Tech, there were plenty of negatives.
The defeat was Miami’s first in 14 home games this season. A 10-game home winning streak in the ACC also was snapped.
Tech (16-13, 6-11) entered as the ninth-place team in the ACC. Less than two weeks ago, Miami’s 14-game winning streak was snapped at 10th-place Wake Forest.
“They deserve the celebration,” Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory said. “We’re just glad it wasn’t against us.”
Miami built an 11-point halftime by shooting 57.1 percent, then squandered it by sinking 36.4 percent in the second half, including 1 of 10 from 3-point range.
Georgia Tech shot 51.7 percent for the game. The opposing team has shot higher than 50 percent in the last three Miami losses.
“This loss definitely hurts,” senior big man Julian Gamble said, “and hopefully it hurts us enough for us realize that we have to get back to defending at our absolute best.”
Center Reggie Johnson, who re-entered the starting lineup for Saturday’s loss at Duke after coming off the bench 11 straight games, played horribly against the Yellow Jackets. He hit 1 of 4 shots, with one rebound and three turnovers in 15 minutes.
A team that relies on an eight-man rotation will need its senior wide body to be a force if the Canes are to make a run in either in the ACC Championship or NCAA Tournament.
“I just think he needs to play better,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “Sometimes a guy just needs to challenge himself more — to play better defense, to score better when you have the ball.”
The end of Miami’s long winning streak was inevitable, even if it did happen against struggling Wake. And dropping a close game at Duke certainly was no embarrassment.
The lone victory in the last four games, however, was at home against last-place Virginia Tech. Also, the last two games of the winning streak were nailbiters at Clemson and against Virginia.
“We have to get back to what we were doing before,” Gamble said. “I still have the utmost faith in my teammates and the coaching staff and I know we’re going to fix the problem.”
Gregory, who went to two NCAA Tournament Final Fours as an assistant to Tom Izzo at Michigan State, said Miami remains a threat to do something special.
“They’ve had a tremendous year, and it’s far from over,” Gregory said. “They are a team that can not only, in another week, win an ACC Tournament championship, but they’re good enough to go a long way and get to the Final Four.”